‘The Good Son: The Life of Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini’ movie review


In the documentary, former boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini meets the son of the fighter who died after a 1982 championship bout knockout. (Snag Films)
August 8, 2013

For two thirds of it, “The Good Son: The Life of Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini” is a fine, if unremarkable, telling of the tale of boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. As documentaries go, it’s somewhat dull, characterized less by action-packed boxing clips than by shots of archival photos and yellowing newspaper headlines and by the standard interviews with friends, colleagues and such celebrities as Mickey Rourke and Ed O’Neill.

Based on a 2012 book by sportswriter Mark Kriegel, who also appears as a talking head throughout the documentary, “The Good Son” charts Mancini’s life, from his youth in Youngstown, Ohio, through the tragedy that he is unfortunately still best known for: the fight with Duk-koo Kim, a Korean boxer who died as the result of a brain injury sustained during Mancini’s November 1982 defense of his World Boxing Association lightweight title, which he had won earlier that year.

That championship helps explains the film’s title. Much of the narrative of “The Good Son” concerns Mancini’s desire to win the title on behalf of his boxer father (and “Boom Boom” namesake), Lenny, who never won a world championship. But there’s a secondary meaning as well. The unsolved 1981 shooting death of Ray’s older brother, who may or may not have been mixed up with some unsavory characters at the time he wound up with a bullet in his head, positions Ray as the more favored son, at least by one measure.

There’s even a third meaning. And this is where the film gets both more interesting and way, way weirder.

As Kriegel was reporting his book, he met the adult son of Duk-koo Kim, who expressed a desire to meet — and, presumably, to forgive — the man who had killed his father. Roughly the final third of the film concerns that meeting (which also includes Kim’s widow). It seems to have taken place almost entirely on camera, first on Mancini’s front lawn and later over a leisurely meal and several bottles of wine. It is, as you might expect, both somewhat self-serving and awkwardly, even painfully voyeuristic.

I guess it’s good filmmaking. What it feels like, more accurately, is good television, at least by the standards of such staples of the reality-entertainment industry as “Big Brother,” “The Bachelor,” “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew” and other shows in which participants open their most intimate, private moments to the entire world.

Viewers of “The Good Son” should be glad for Mancini, who is listed as an executive producer of the film. He comes across as a genuinely nice guy who deserves closure and forgiveness more than to be tortured, which for much of the past 30 years he appears to have been. But the odd and disturbing thing about the film is just how comfortable he — and we — have become putting moments on camera that, once upon a time, were meant to be shared between two people.

★★

Unrated. At the West End Cinema. Contains brief obscenity and disturbing thematic material. In English and Korean with subtitles. 88 minutes.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Michael O’Sullivan has worked since 1993 at The Washington Post, where he covers art, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture.
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