Sports stories are innately ridden with drama, perhaps none more so than boxing stories. On the Ropes is a boxing story about the Bed-Stuy Boxing Club, three fighters who train there and Harry, the man who trains them. A nail-biting, gut-wrenching documentary in the tradition of Hoop Dreams, On the Ropes pulls no punches in showing the bleak world these boxers inhabit, their broken promises and dreams deferred.
Harry, an ex-con and former crack addict, is the boxer who never was. Past his prime, he focuses his energies on training the young talents at his club, hanging his hopes and aspirations on their potential for success. Perhaps the kid with the most potential is George, an affable light middleweight who vaguely resembles Mike Tyson. Although he’s trained with Harry for almost four years, he is torn between Harry and the managers, promoters and other trainers who are vying for a piece of him.
Noel, the son of a former crack addict and a petty thief himself, is dangerously close to flunking out or dropping out of high school. Harry refuses to allow Noel to train unless he hits the books first, but Noel’s life is without structure. His laziness may prove to be his downfall, both in and out of the ring.
Tyrene is an aggressive fighter, who “wants it more than most men,” and has the skills. Unfortunately, Tyrene lives in squalor, raising her nieces in the same home as her AIDS-infected, crack-smoking uncle, Randy. Busted for possession with intent to sell, Tyrene attempts to remain focused on her first upcoming professional bout, even while her personal life crumbles around her.
Documentarians Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen invade the lives of these three boxers and their trainer with an incredibly delicate sensitivity. The result is a gripping, moving, unglamorous and deeply personal portrait of the world of boxing.