Split Decision

on February 09, 2001 by Jordan Reed
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   In 1976, "Rocky" struck a cord with audiences, presenting the thrilling, violent sport of boxing as the road to the American dream. In 1996, "When We Were Kings" pieced together the "Rumble in the Jungle" (Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's 1974 bout that took place in Zaire) to form a meditation on race, politics, ego and heroism expressed through a highly anticipated fight. Marcy Garriott skillfully merges the two in her documentary, "Split Decision," about the life of Mexican boxer Jesus Chavez.

   Born in Mexico but raised in Chicago, a teenaged Chavez, already a promising amateur fighter, abets in a local grocery store robbery, gets nabbed and spends over three years in prison. In 1994, he moves to Austin, rediscovers the ring and turns pro after just two amateur bouts. By 1997, he's poised to win the world championship. But a tough 1996 immigration law requiring the deportation of undocumented aliens convicted of crimes stymies Chavez's chances, forcing him to live with his grandparents near Chihuahua. As his U.S. promoters take steps to get him back into the States, Chavez faces unusual challenges in his birth land. Not taken seriously as a contender, looked upon as an outsider and unable to find worthy opponents, he gets his last chance for respect--and a future in professional boxing--when he takes on the Mexican national champion in Mexico City in 1999.

   Through interviews with Chavez and his family, as well as crunching fight footage, Garriott wonderfully juxtaposes the serenity, love and subdued struggle of a working-class family hoping to see one of their own rise above poverty with the brutal sport he adopts as his ladder. In a mere 75 minutes, she provides a riveting and touching look at Chavez's plight, using it to make a larger point about the severity of, and lack of discretion in, the Congressional policy that put him there. What's lacking is any substantial time spent with the other side--those who made and support the strict laws--to get their take on the subject. With more thorough objectivity, Garriott would likely have made an even stronger case for her beliefs. Without it, "Split Decision" still packs a wallop.    Starring Jesus Chavez. Directed and produced by Marcy Garriott. A First Run Features release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 75 min.

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