Johnny Kovak joins the Teamsters trade-union in a local chapter in the 1930s and works his way up in the organization. As he climbs higher and higher his methods become more ruthless and finally senator Madison starts a campaign to find the truth about the alleged connections with the Mob.
With Sylvester Stallone following his Academy Award-nominated performance from 'Rocky', a three-time Oscar winner including Best Picture, with a film entitled 'F.I.S.T.', audiences might not have been expecting that the fighting on screen would be in the streets. But that's what they got in Norman Jewison's fictional biopic, loosely based on the life of Jimmy Hoffa.
The film opens in Cleveland 1937. With America still in the grips of the Great Depression, work was lacking and what was available was brutal, as workers were easily exploited by employers, such as being forced to work overtime hours with no extra pay beyond their day's wages. Johnny Kovak (Stallone) is a charismatic guy, and when he and his fellow workers can't take anymore of the unfair treatment at the hands of their supervisor, he serves as the de facto leader when they revolt. Johnny meets with the boss, Mr. Andrews, and makes a deal for better working conditions. However, Johnny discovers the next morning all he accomplished was getting fired.
Fueled by resentment and needing a job, Johnny joins the Federation of Inter State Truckers (F.I.S.T.) to sign up new members in the trucking union. Working his way up the ranks, Johnny sits in on meetings and leads a strike when the union doesn’t what it wants. When the striking workers are attacked and injured, Johnny has nowhere to turn since the police on the side of the business owners. This causes him to reaches out to Vince (Kevin Conway), a childhood friend and gangster. Vince and his associates are just as vicious, if not more so, as the company strikebreakers, and the worst thing that can happen does: their attacks leads to the union getting their deal.
Johnny is beguiled by the allure of power and seeks to increase the size of the union. His friend Abe (David Huffman) tries to be his conscience, but Johnny won’t listen. When a businessman in Chicago (Brian Dehenny) won't make his workers join the union, Johnny reaches out to a local gangster Babe Milano (Tony Lo Bianco). Things turn ugly quick, and soon after, Babe expects to have his favor paid back. Years pass, as seen in the gray added to Stallone's hair. Senator Madison (Rod Steiger) is very curious about the union's finances and associations. When the national president is found to be corrupt, Johnny takes over.
Starting off as a script by Joe Eszterhas before Stallone added to it, 'F.I.S.T.' offers a pretty grim notion of what it takes to succeed in America. Johnny's idealistic hopes and goals are easily corrupted, as every step requires a sacrifice of principles in order to be achieved because so many unprincipled people stand in the way. Unfortunately, the story is all too familiar and the plot never takes a surprising turn. While the rest of the cast does a fine job, it's difficult not to see Stallone as Stallone. 'F.I.S.T.' is well made but never reaches the level of compelling viewing that it earnestly strives to be.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents 'F.I.S.T.' on a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Colors appear in strong hues, from rich brown tones to vibrant reds and yellows in the American flag and F.I.S.T. banners, respectively. The image also delivers bright whites, like Vince's carnation and tablecloths, and rich blacks, like the tuxedos. Fine texture details can be seen in clothes, like Anna's wedding dress. There's a good amount of film grain until the last shot where it intensifies.
The image usually looks sharp and delivers good depth. Cinematographer László Kovács appears to intentionally shoot some scenes with Johnny and Anna with a softer focus to add a romantic feel. But then there are other times, such as scenes when the strikebreakers attack, when the soft focus appears to be an error. There are rare instances when white specks appear in a frame and a scene where Johnny and Anna are running away a blue line runs through the frame vertically.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Bill Conti's score sounds compacted and borders on distorting during opening credits. When the on-screen activity grows intense, such as the fight scenes, the track delivers a cacophony of noise rather than discernible sounds. Also, Punches are muted and underwhelming. The dialogue is clear in many scenes, but isn’t consistently mixed well together with the other elements. The dynamic range is limited by the poor results at the loud end, and the bass is merely adequate.
'F.I.S.T.' has enough elements that its talented cast and crew get right that make it worth a look. but it's also a film that could easily be skipped without fear of missing an important contribution to the history of cinema. The stories by Jewison and Eszterhas about its making that appear in the extra are more interesting than the film itself.