As far as boxing stories go, the fascinating documentary feature Klitschko is anything but the typical boxing story of a misguided youth getting into trouble on the streets who eventually finds his way out through boxing. In those stories, the protagonist doesn't have much education, money, family or life options, but is one of the "lucky" ones to make it... until injuries force him into retirement. At this point, not being able to find work due to lack of skills, or having been taken advantage by money managers, he is broke.
Indeed, that's exactly the stereotype an African-American boxer points out in Klitschko, and then asks the question everyone else is wondering: why did two Ukrainian brothers from a close-knit military family who hold PhDs and speak four languages choose a brutal sport like boxing?
German filmmaker Sebastian Dehnhardt helps to answer this question in this lovingly crafted documentary that takes the brothers from their early upbringing as military brats, and chronicles their rise to world champion status. Although technically a German film, languages spoken also include English and Russian. (If you're one of those who has a hard time with subtitles, don't be discouraged. The film's narrative is so smooth as it goes back and forth between languages that you'll barely notice your brain switching from English-language mode to sub-title mode.)
Through interviews with the brothers, their parents and spouses; fellow boxing professionals such as coaches, managers and doctors; and opponents such as Lennox Lewis, Lamon Brewster and Chris Byrd among numerous others, much is revealed about the sport of boxing and the brothers themselves.
If it's just the sport of boxing that fascinates you, Dehnhardt shows plenty of footage of Klitschko fights and how they propel or set back each sibling. During these seminal career-defining moments, the camera often slows down the punches to show their force as heads snap back and recoil. Blood spatters and bones shatter.
At the same time, if you're a fan of Vitali or Wladimir, or just want to know more about these two, there are a lot of stories and footage that showcase the men beyond the ring -- and that is what elevates Klitschko above other sports documentaries.
We learn of their Soviet upbringing, their move to Germany and then the United States. Dehnhardt follows the brothers to their old stomping grounds of living on a military base in Kiev, which prompts plenty of memories. Some are quite shocking, including when the Chernobyl explosion occurred and their father was part of the clean-up crew. The brothers not only watched as the returning, contaminated trucks were cleaned off, they played in the radioactive puddles of water from those washes. (Once can't help but jokingly wonder if that nuked water somehow contributed to their almost super-human fighting powers.)
Their closeness stems from being constantly moved around Eastern Europe from one military base to the next. The brothers only had each other and the older Vitali was told he was in charge to watch over and protect his young brother, affectionately known as Vovchick (which in Ukrainian means "little wolf" -- in other words -- Wolfie.) "They still haven't told me to stop," Vitali says jokingly of his parents' orders, except he's only half kidding because to this day, it is still the kind of close and protective relationship they have.
Other highlights include photos and stories of the brothers' very first trip to America, which went completely against everything they learned in the former Soviet Union, where in school "every morning we had to write bad things about America," the brothers admit. Upon their very first taste of Coca Cola, "I thought I could drink a bucket of this." Other revelations during their first U.S. visit include: "How can there be 100 kinds of cheese?" and "So many shoes!"
There is also footage of their first meeting with Don King, whom they were excited to meet when he asked them to come to his house for a meeting after Wladimir won the Olympic gold medal in 1996. The footage is fascinating as King tries to lure them in to signing a contract that is no doubt not in their favor. Though King obviously has his bag of tricks that has always worked with naive boxers in the past, the Klitschko brothers were not buying it. When King sits down to play the piano to show them he was serious artist they discover that he's feigning the whole thing on a self-playing piano complete with moving pedals. They hightail it out of there. "He is not an honest person," Vitali points out.
The film also addresses the fact that most of the world still has trouble telling the two apart; with their mother pointing out that all their lives, they've often been mistaken for twins. At first, the viewers themselves can't always tell which brother is which (for the record, Vitali is 40 years old and stands at 6'8" while Vladimir is 35 and 6'6'' tall), but as the documentary unfolds, we slowly learn that despite the physical similarities, their fighting styles are drastically different -- their coach notes that Vitali is made of stone and Wladimir is made of clay, showing plenty of footage to illustrate this fact.
At one hour and 50 minutes, the documentary is probably longer than it needs to be, but when you're dubbed as "the most intelligent heavyweights ever," there's a lot that needs to be covered, including Vitali's attempt at running for politics in Kiev.
Though Vitali and Wladimir are the first brothers in the history of boxing to hold world championship titles in heavyweight at the same time -- which, as Lennox Lewis points out, means they should fight each other to see who the winner is. However, the brothers promised their mother they would never fight each other. It is this strong familial bond that makes Klitschko so wonderful to watch.