HBO's Debuts New Series Friday, Focuses On Boxing's Freddie Roach
Boxing trainer Freddie Roach is the subject of a new six-episode documentary series titled "On Freddie Roach" debuting Friday night on HBO, and the series, which is being directed by actor-filmmaker Peter Berg, “is art,” according to Bryan Armen Graham of SI. Rather than “spell things out, Berg allows his subject to bleed through the screen with minimal narration,” and the result “is a gorgeously wrought portrait of an ordinary man at work amid an atmosphere of celebrity.” The narrative is laid out “not with the sound bites and stylistic trappings of 24/7 … but through eavesdropped conversations and spartan, sometimes abstract images that convey the loneliness of a man at the top of his profession.” Graham notes Berg “hopes to continue the series as a brand -- he's already spent a week filming Washington State football coach Mike Leach for a follow-up pitch” (SI, 1/23 issue). The AP’s Greg Beacham wrote the 30-minute episodes “feature no Liev Schreiber narration, no story lines, no stunts -- just cameras silently following Roach through his complicated life training Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., while also running the busy Wild Card Gym and stoically managing" Parkinson's Disease. Berg said, "I thought this would be the right style and it would separate us from '24/7,' which I'm a huge fan of. I think HBO had more of an appetite to do something different. It was just a very emotional experience, and they recognized that we could do something that felt genuine and emotional" (AP, 1/19). In N.Y. Mike Hale wrote the “heart of the show doesn’t lie in exposé or sensationalism. … It’s in observation and vérité technique, explicitly inspired by Frederick Wiseman, whose documentaries have been cited as a model” by Berg. Technically there is “no narration, though extracts from interviews with Mr. Roach, heard in the background, often serve that purpose” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/20).
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES: USA TODAY’s Tom Pedulla wrote this series “is not as much about the shaking and speech problems associated with Parkinson’s as Roach’s ability to overcome them.” Roach said, “Basically the message is, ‘We can work through anything.’” Some of the “most compelling footage" shows Roach "working in the ring with Khan in preparation for a bout with Zab Judah and his meticulousness in wrapping Khan’s hands before the opening bell.” The trainer’s hands “do not shake” (USA TODAY, 1/19). Roach said, “This will show how difficult (Parkinson's) is, but it still doesn't affect what I do. I'm still working … I wrap hands better than anyone, work the mitts. You can overcome anything with hard work and desire, and that's what I wanted to show" (L.A. TIMES, 1/20). On Long Island, Bobby Cassidy wrote in watching the first two episodes, “it’s hard to proclaim that this isn’t about boxing because that is Roach’s identity.” But “it’s not.” It is about “a guy named Freddie Roach who right now happens to be the best trainer in the world” (NEWSDAY.com, 1/18).