ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: Robbed (2014)

Directed by Eric Drath

Eric Drath has now been involved in this series four times as a director, to the detriment of the series. I don’t want to rip on him too much, as his films have been quite serviceable, but unfortunately nothing more. Robbed may be his weakest yet. It tells the story of Ali-Norton III, which took place in New York City’s Yankee Stadium in September of 1976, the same time when the city’s police force was striking for higher pay. As a result, the fight became a sideshow to the protests from the cops and the general disarray that surrounded the stadium and multiple celebrities in attendance. However, the fight itself remains notable for its controversial decision in favor of Muhammad Ali, when almost all in attendance were convinced Ken Norton had finally pulled through for a moment to hang his career on, a victory over the loudmouth champ.

Where Drath fails is really in content. The story is there, and is a compelling one, but he never surrounds the bare bones with any meat to chew on. I understand the short format makes it challenging to fully flesh out all the intriguing details of a story, but Drath seemingly wastes 16 minutes on generalizations. For the most part, the story is completely told by talking heads and brief clips of the fight itself. It needs more file footage of the rioting/protesting/mess that surrounded the stadium. If the footage doesn’t exist, then we need more first hand accounts, and more specific examples then “there was unruliness outside”. And for a film that calls itself Robbed to describe how Norton was robbed of winning the fight by a judge’s decision, it sure seems to lack sufficient video evidence of the fight. As I say, there are fleeting punches documented, but ultimately Drath spends too much time with talking heads describing the fight than he does showing the viewer the fight.

His best achievement in the series to date, Renee was much more curious about its subject than Drath seems interested in here. Robbed feels like a lazy attempt to reenter the arena of 30 for 30 for Drath. It seems unfortunate that neither Ali or Norton were able to be interviewed for the film, but that can’t be helped by the filmmaker. I would have liked to have heard what they had to say about their experience in the ring, and around the stadium that day (it was hinted Norton had difficulty even making his way into the stadium prior to the fight). The film strained to ever delve into any small details like that. For documentary films I have noticed that the best often make an effort to highlight such small, interesting details, while the ones who paint with broad strokes, highlighting only the obvious larger storyline often fail to impress or capture my attention.

**1/2 – Average

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