The Power of One (1992)

Director: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Morgan Freeman, John Gielgud, Fay Masterson, Marius Weyers, Tracy Brooks Swope, John Osborne, Daniel Craig, Dominic Walker, Alois Mayo, Ian Roberts, Maria Marais
Music: Hans Zimmer
Based on the novel by Bryce Courtenay

Since I began writing King of the Outback, my entry in the Fight Card series, Paul Bishop (co creator of the Fight Card series) and I have been exchanging emails, and offering up the odd suggestion on what is a great boxing novel or film.

One novel Paul recommended was The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. Being at heart a very lazy person, and as I knew The Power of One clocked in at around 500 pages, I quipped that I would take the easy option, and just check out the film (which I had never seen). Paraphrasing Paul’s words (and I hope he’ll forgive the liberty), he suggested that the film was barely passable, but the novel was a masterpiece. Masterpiece. Okay, it’s hard to ignore a masterpiece.

That night, I stopped at my local second hand book store, and picked up a copy of The Power of One and began to read it. I was hooked instantly, and read it over the following weeks. But being somewhat of a cineophile, I still felt a need to check out the film. Now, in hindsight, I should have probably waited a month or two after reading the book, so my recollection of the story would not have been so clear.

The film made me really angry. Angry to the point where I was yelling at the film – and calling script writer Robert Mark Kamen every dirty name under the sun. Normally I am quite fond of Kamen’s screenplay’s – I grew up with The Karate Kid, and have loved his collaborations with Luc Besson, and for EuropaCorp. But his adaptation of, The Power of One, simply sucked all the life out of the story – chopping and changing things at will. How come Grandpa Chook could not be called Grandpa Chook, huh?

Admittedly, it had to be a mammoth task, condensing The Power of One for the screen, and I guess changes would have had to be made – that’s common sense. But the choices, at times were baffling and frustrating. The truncation of Peekay’s (Stephen Dorff) boarding school experience at the beginning, negated much of the ending, with Daniel Craig – Peekay’s schoolyard nemesis – coming off as a psycho.

And as this month on P2K I am talking about boxing, it’s worth noting the boxing in the film is rather flat and uninspiring, and once again, Peekay’s motivation for becoming a boxer is stripped away from him. His burning desire to become the Welter-Weight Champion of the world is practically non existent.

The truncation also mutes many of the characters too. Minor spoiler – along Peekay’s journey, quite a few of the characters die. With such little time on screen to establish them, when their demise comes, it is hard to feel the emotional connection, and the depth of the loss – at least in Peekay’s eyes – as the story demands.

I wanted to like The Power of One very much, but I find it too hard to be objective. I see a clunky, ill conceived mish-mash, that takes episodes from a damn good book, and rolls them out over two hour hours (and not necessarily in order). Of course, I cannot travel back in time, but I wonder what I would have felt about the film, if I had watched it before reading the book? Would it have been uplifting and triumphant? Would I have thought better of it? We’ll never know.

The final wash-up is that The Power of One novel by Bryce Courtenay is goot, Absoloodle… whereas the the film if blery awful.

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney). Accordingly, in a month long celebration, Permission to Kill will be looking back and some of the highlights – and lowlights – of boxing in film and literature – and in music too.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

The Power of One (1992)

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