Thursday, February 10, 2011

Violence That is Pure and Clean

Cockfighter (1974) - Hellman
What makes a man? A set of balls? Perhaps a cock? Is it not what he says but what he does?

After losing a cockfight by shooting his mouth off against his long time rival (Harry Dean Stanton), Frank (Warren Oates) takes a vow of silence until he claims 'The Cockfighter of the Year' medal. For him, cockfighting is not about money, women, nor about cocks. It's not even about winning. It's his love for its simplicity - you give all you have in that ring, fight to the death, albeit second-hand. He wagers with his car, trailer, girlfriend, house, everything. Women don't understand him. They don't understand the violence that is pure and clean. No wonder his attitude toward them is take-it-or-leave-it.

There are two hilarious scenes that stick out- one with young Ed Begley Jr. as a hick farmboy who doesn't take a defeat well. And a stickup by group of presidential masked gunman at the motel where a makeshift cockfight takes place. Everyone has to take their pants off.

Laurie Bird reprises her role in Two Lane Blacktop here and Harry Dean is always dependable as leathery lowlife. But the film totally belongs to Oates. Relying on his body language and that good old toothy smile, he demonstrates his acting range as a single minded Hellman anti-hero without being someone other than Warren Oates.