‘La Guerra Civil’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Eva Longoria Bastón’s doc recounts the culturally charged 1996 match between boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Julio César Chávez.

Never underestimate the ability of a group of people — whether it’s politics, race or a love of Jedi knights that unites them — to create internal conflict despite their common cause. So it is that La Guerra Civil, about the 1996 bout between legendary boxer Julio César Chávez and rising star Oscar De La Hoya, becomes the tale of a Mexican and Mexican-American fan base who decided that the new kid, despite being raised in a Spanish-speaking Los Angeles home by two Mexican immigrants, wasn’t Mexican enough to take the place of their hero.

Telling the story exactly as we’d expect from the ESPN 30 For 30 docs that festivals embraced a few years back, Eva Longoria Bastón spends plenty of time on each fighter’s backstory before following them into the ring. Though the interviewees are charismatic, this is not one of those sports docs that (like a Muhammad Ali film or two) illuminates so many layers of social meaning in its subject that it demands to be seen by non-sports fans. Those already interested in these athletes should enjoy it; the rest of us can take it or leave it.

La Guerra Civil

The Bottom Line

Intriguing identity issues notwithstanding, it’s for boxing fans only.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)

Director: Eva Longoria Bastón

1 hour 43 minutes

Both of these men had movie-star looks, though they would have played different roles. Chávez, who grew up poor in Sinaloa, would have been a Charles Bronson tough-guy, albeit one with more zest for life: Comfortable around cartel bosses and a very big partier by the time of this fight, he would return from a night out around the time his rival got up to start training. He started inauspiciously, losing his first childhood fight to a girl. But when he realized this was a way to make money, he left home and promised not to return until he could buy his mother a house.

De La Hoya, on the other hand, would have been a leading man in anyone’s book. Rather than doubt his roots, naysayers should simply have said the “Golden Boy” was too pretty to be tough. His story followed what has since become a familiar template: Pushed into fighting by men in his family, he made his amateur debut at six years old and, according to sportswriter Ron Borges, soon became “a business commodity for his father.” He had no childhood, no prom, just boxing. He punched his way to the 1992 Olympics and, upon winning the gold medal, celebrated by waving not just the American but the Mexican flags in the ring. (This was unplanned, according to the film.) Mexicans, and those with roots there, went wild for him. But only until they were forced to chose between him and Chávez.

The story now becomes one of sports-biz maneuvering. The elder boxer begins to flag after, celebrating a major victory against Hector “Macho” Camacho, he finally says “yes” to friends’ offers of cocaine. (“My ruin,” he recalls with a smile.) When the undefeated champ finally loses a fight, people handling De La Hoya see an opportunity to leap to his level. A bout dubbed “Ultimate Glory” is scheduled, preceded by a nationwide promotional tour that hit three cities in a day.

The public ugliness surrounding and following that fight are best described in the film, not here. But it’s good to see that both men, interviewed at length on camera, appear to have recovered from any ill will and made peace with their respective vices. They even seem to like each other. Maybe there’s a buddy-cop film in their future, featuring a grizzled old vet near retirement and his once-beautiful partner who insists he’s still light on his feet.

Full credits

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Production companies: DAZN, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment
Director: Eva Longoria Bastón
Producers: Eva Longoria Bastón, Grant Best, Bernardo Ruiz, Ben Spector, Andrea Cordoba
Executive Producers: Ed McCarthy, Hugh Sleight
Director of photography: Claudio Rocha
Editor: Luis Alvarez y Alvarez
Composer: Tony Morales
Sales: DAZN

1 hour 43 minutes