Cockfighter - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Cockfighter Reviews

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May 23, 2017
Warren Oates stars as a champion cockfighter who lost out on winning a championship medal because he couldn't keep his mouth shut. He vows not to speak again until he wins the medal. This flick is well-known as one of the only films that Roger Corman produced that failed to make any money. Although it's really a great film, you can see why it didn't exactly set the exploitation circuit on fire. The only real exploitation angle that the film has going is cockfighting ... and there's a lot of it and it's real. Corman seems to have dropped his sure fire formula of including some violence, nudity or some other angle to appeal to the punters. What you do get here is a really classy bit of American existentialism, the kind that Hellman excels at, with a very strong wordless lead from Oates, and able supporting turns from Harry Dean Stanton, Steve Railsback and a very young Ed Begley, Jr. If you can stomach lots of birds trying to kill each other and succeeding quite often, it's a real gem.
April 13, 2017
An existential art house flick about a mute cockfighter. Ah, the underground 70's.
½ March 23, 2017
This was a film that I was happy to finally cross of the list, as it's something from the year in which I was born and also a film I've heard a lot about over the years.

Warren Oates plays a largely silent role after taking a vow of silence after becoming too boastful and proud and being brought low when his bird loses. We watch him train a new bird and the various oddballs he encounters while working this circuit of cockfighting, all of which is done with real roosters, so beware if you're too much of an animal lover, as it's pretty rough going in several spots.

Well worth a look if you can deal with the realities of it, but understandably a pass if you can't.
July 28, 2015
Cockfighting trainer takes a vow of silence in attempt to rebuild his career after loose talk costs him his prized cock in a late-night hotel match. Another gem from Monte Hellman featuring the great Warren Oates in a rare lead role, showcasing the sport's subculture. Cockfighting scenes are rather unpleasant, however, to anyone advocating animal's rights.
October 5, 2014
Warren Oates. Harry Dean Stanton. Monte Hellman. 'Nuff said.
½ August 8, 2013
Traço crucial em todo o esquema de Monte Hellman dedicado à noção de que o Homem Americano não consegue evitar uma atracção patológica por tudo o que envolva disputas, apostas e jogo, porque é por aí que muitas vezes encontra a sua posição entre os seus pares. Mais recentemente, "Road to Nowhere" envolvia um duelo por uma mulher e pelo rumo de um filme, assim como "Two-Lane Blacktop" também era centrado numa corrida de egos e de filosofias de vida (reflectidas na forma como alguém guia um carro). "Cockfighter" engloba a essência desses dois e consegue chegar à visceralidade própria das lutas sem o espalhafato de "Road to Nowhere" (que, perto do final, fica totalmente descontrolado). O Monte Hellman de "Cockfighter" demonstra toda aquela cegueira que o homem tem por ver verter a quantidade suficiente de sangue para lhe garantir a vitória em qualquer coisa (muitas vezes uma vitória somente simbólica e do status). Além de tudo, Warren Oates é um actor com uma presença avassaladora como Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen ou um Kirk Douglas. Oxalá o seu culto não pare de crescer. Fica muito perto da nota máxima.
April 14, 2013
This is a blood and guts art film with unforgettable intensity and stark scenes that few films have managed to capture with such fervor.
Super Reviewer
March 3, 2013
this is a great film and i've seen much worse animal cruelty in films if that's a concern. warren oates carries it well with harry dean stanton in fine support
½ October 27, 2012
Warren Oates stars as a cockfighter trainer who takes a vow of silence as he rebuilds his career after reckless behaviour cost him the sports highest honour, the Cockfighter of the Year medal. Not for PETA backers. Finally illegal in Georgia.
Super Reviewer
April 7, 2012
I cannot decide why I think Hellman is in many ways a genius. Is it because he managed to make an existential drama out of a movie about something so violent & arcane as cockfighting?
Or is it due to the fact that he managed to see the brilliance of both Warren Oates & Harry Dean Stanton & had them share the screen in not one, but two of his films? I don't know exactly. The jury is still out.
But like his previous film "Two-Lane Blacktop", the viewer follows the exploits of a lone anti-hero, looking to make his own way in this mixed-up world. His drive to cockfight seems to be the product of some sort of compulsion. People in his life lecture him incessantly on the virtues of self-control, but those people, like most other things in his life, aren't much more than pawns to him. Movable when an opportunity to improve his game presents itself. It isn't the brightest study of the post-sixties American character, but it is sure fascinating.
I can understand why this film didn't go over so well with the general public. The animal cruelty on display is at times hard to bear. Yet, Hellman expertly cuts back and forth between the violence of the pit and the audience jeering & grinning at the carnage, looking to be both entertained and to make some extra cash. One guy is even seen ostentatiously choking back chicken during one fight.
Also, the faces of the dead birds are juxtaposed with the faces of those onlookers who seem to understand the depth of the depravity. Again, it is hard to watch, but Hellman uses the slaughter to great effect. When it is all over, it is hard to decide who to pity more: the birds or the people?
It is a sad portrait of a people who seem to find their meaning in such a brutish existence. While it may not be on the whole better than his other films, Hellman proves once again that he can capture the underbelly of the American dream like nobody else.
January 31, 2012
one of the best chickens are law greys
January 30, 2012
I'm not sure I shoul admit to having seen this - it is unavailable here in the UK, and it will never be screened or released on any video format either. The last attempted screening, in 2006 at the Edinburgh Film Festival, saw the event picketed by animal rights activists, forcing the organisers to cancel the screening. Their complaint, and a valid one, is that the cockfighting scenes in the film are unreconstructed - they are real. Animals were killed in the making of this production. Because of those reasons, Cockfighter remains a troubling watch.

This is the film Monte Hellman made after Two-Lane Blacktop. It explores another subculture in contemporary America - and again features characters who are removed from the mainstream, whose lives are lost, broken, disorganised - but who, within this subculture, find acceptance and love.

Warren Oates is Frank Mansfield, a game cock trainer who has taken a vow of silence only to be broken when he wins the coveted Cockfighter of the Year Award. This narrative arc places Cockfighter then squarely in the traditions of the American Sports Film - I was watching it and being constantly reminded of things like Rocky. It has the same structure.

Again Hellman casts some Two-Lane familiars - Warren Oates, taking the lead. Harry Dean Stanton giving again another of his fascinating performances, a man led by selfish instinct who has a predatory nature inside him - his brief scenes with Laurie Bird (another Two-Lane alumni) fizzle with domination games, and reveal a man asserting authority over another. The way he keeps putting his bird into fight, even when he's beaten, reveals the true measure of the man. Laurie Bird is, however, wasted in this film - she barely features.

I can imagine this was a tough sell in the 70s - and tougher now. Cockfighting is highly controversial - though it was once a recognised, and very popular, 'sport'. That into this frame you place a mute character as your central lead - well, let's just say, such a film would not be made in the 21st century. So it is a film very much of its day - and yet, because of its structure, it remains universal. It is another fascinating film from a director who has never entered the mainstream, but who is always worth watching. And, for all its controversies, Cockfighter remains a very interesting film.
Super Reviewer
½ January 16, 2012
In theory, "Cockfighter" has plenty in common with director Monte Hellman's earlier classic "Two-Lane Blacktop." Warren Oates has a prime role in both films, and both stories follow a nomadic anti-hero who drives around the country making bets on his own quirky, outlaw talent. It's just that "Blacktop" was about drag racing rather than cockfighting.

The film's most unusual element is that Oates barely says a word. His character Frank has taken a temporary vow of silence, due to wasting a bird after overconfidently bragging about its prowess. Oates rises to the acting challenge, mostly communicating with his eyes and hands as he deals with an unsupportive girlfriend (Patricia Pearcy), a ditzy road fling (doomed Laurie Bird, who also appeared in "Blacktop"), a financial backer (Richard B. Shull) and his chief rival (Harry Dean Stanton, wonderful in one of the first roles to establish his highly successful, second-phase persona). You also get the young Ed Begley, Jr. thoroughly embarrassing himself as a naive rube. Add a slew of Southern good ol' boys in smaller parts, and the cast becomes a virtual feast of character actors.

The animal violence (seemingly not faked) will turn off many viewers, but it's not as gruesome as one might guess. It's nearly bloodless, except in the climactic battle. The emphasis is more on the men who watch and participate in this "sport," and how they have a twisted gentleman's code of sorts despite the fighting's fundamental depravity. The matches do have rules and a referee. You'll resist rooting for Frank to win, but you'll be interested in what makes him tick.
September 14, 2011
I am torn with this film, while I applaud the character of Frank Mansfield (Warren Oates) and the idea that Hellman was trying to portrait, I feel that by including actual cockfighting in this film derives the audiences attention away from the true theme of the story. But this is where I am most torn because I feel that the actual cockfights are a necessary element in this story. I watched this film with a film club in Berlin and when we discussed the film afterwards it seemed that everyone was concerned with the rights of the roosters in the film. Frank Mansfield knows cockfighting but does he know love? And an even more important question is - Where is his heart? in his chest? or in his cock?
I would argue that Frank's heart lies in his cock (both his rooster and in this penis). 1. Frank is a very physical man - this attribute is highlighted by the fact that he doesn't speak - so for his love interest Laurie Bird and for the audience Frank exist purely on an physical level (aside from some narration and a flashback) - but for Laurie he is purely physical. One could argue that love is more emotional than physical and that lust is more physical that emotional.
2. At the end of the film Laurie tells Frank that he is void of emotion and that his rooster has more heart than he does - heart is in his cock. As a response to this Frank rips the head off of his rooster and presents it to Laurie. Laurie accepts the roosters head then runs off to her car. Frank's manager Omar Baradinsky ask Frank about his lady troubles to which Frank (first time he has diagetically spoken) says "she loves me." Laurie accepting Frank's cock is overtly sexual - and to Frank this "sexual act" is love.
3. I would also argue that all voyeurism in this film lies within the cockfights - which is why I feel that is was essential for them to be real - thus making the act of watching these forbidden fights voyeuristic.
August 22, 2011
I actually like this director (Two-Lane Blacktop is the bee's knees) and I 'get' what he's up to in this film. It's a sports film about obsession, male ego, alienation, etc...right, cool. Except...uh...well, maybe it was the copy I watched? It was some kind of low rent public domain thing with 'Mad Dog Morgan' on the disc. Yes, that's it...a director I admire can't have made a bad was the copy...the la la la la.
½ April 5, 2011
This film has the best slow-motion cock fight scene in the history of cinema.
½ January 4, 2011
Here is the reason I rented Cockfighter in the first place: I had to rent a second video in order to use my debit card at the video store. I saw one in the 'cult classics' section with an in-ta-riguing title and a synopsis that spoke of a cockfighting champion who vows not to speak again until he wins the highest honor in the sport - the Cocksman's medal. If I have to rent a second movie, why not this one?

The film has a remarkable 100% on movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, sharing that honor with few others (The Godfather and Toy Story 2 are the most famous examples). The reviews gush:
- "This is a blood and guts art film with unforgettable intensity and stark scenes that few films have managed to capture with such fervor."
- "A great film with a masterful silent performance by Warren Oates."

Unfortunately, the film doesn't live up to the high expectations set by the five total reviews on RT. It's directed by Monte Hellman, who apparently made a name for himself with 1971's Two-Lane Blacktop, a film that has been included in the prestigious Criterion Collection (The 400 Blows and Armageddon are the most famous examples). Perhaps it is because of the good will generated by this earlier film that critics are willing to give this movie the benefit of the doubt. But from the opening credits, which announce that the film was produced by B-movie legend Roger Corman, it is clear that the movie's goal is not to provide any great social or moral layers to the story: instead, it's about watching some cocks fighting.

Well, I take that back. The story is about a man named Frank, a champion cockfighter who doesn't really seem to have any talents in the sport - he's more of a compulsive gambler than anything. After losing a weird slow-motion cockfight in a sleazy motel room and being yelled at for talking too much, he vows never to talk again until he has won the Cocksman's medal, the greatest prize a cockfighting man can hope to secure. His commitment to silence involves slapping his knee with a cowboy hat to denote laughter, and holding up his fingers to symbolize 'five-times-four' in order to declare the price of a chicken $100. The few reviews of Cockfighter tend to praise Warren Oates' silent performance, but I fail to see any great accomplishment in it. In fact, the few times that he does speak in the film are probably a lot better acted than the hokey silent treatment. Plus, the movie cheats by having Frank provide an awful narration for the majority of the film.

Then there is the world of cockfighting itself, which is not shown with any glamor. The sport is populated by rednecks and shysters, dirty people who crowd around little patches of dirt to watch birds claw at each other. This is seen by many as a satire of the sports genre which was gaining popularity at the time of the film's release, but that reading is hard to find compelling. I guess one could say that the seriousness with which the movie takes its sport is commendable - before there is a single fight, there is the long process of grooming and training your chicken. The movie doesn't laugh once at the over-abundance of the word "cock", despite the fact that its viewers certainly will. But this same seriousness is a hindrance for a movie that offers little to keep viewers interested. The previously mentioned slow-mo cockfight is the highlight of the film, whereas most of the other fights are real-time and uneventful. The movie may have really benefited from a sense of humor: there is literally a character in the movie whose single role is to be ejected from a cockfight for sticking his finger in a cock's ass. Imagine putting that on your resume.

So the movie is boring. There are a few actors included who went on to become bigger stars (Harry Dean Stanton and Ed Begley, Jr., are the most famous examples) and, again, those positive reviews go out of their way to dole out praise for their performances. Neither make much of a mark, though; they don't elevate the movie except for the fact that now you can go, "Hey! It's that guy! I've seen him in other stuff!" The characters are otherwise flat, with unclear or stupid motivations. There's not a single person in the film to get behind. We're supposed to see Frank as a hero, I suppose, but he is as lifeless as the rest of the cast. Another suggestion: maybe this could have been corrected by giving some sense of Frank's growth as a cockfighter and as a man. As it stands, he just keeps doing the same thing over and over and then the movie ends.

Did I miss something here? Is Cockfighter a devastating social satire, a black comedy classic that ought to be held up as an example for its understated brilliance? All I saw was a lame movie that went nowhere. It's not so much offensively bad - aside from its animal brutality and broad racial stereotyping - it's more just heartless. It may treat the sport of cockfighting with seriousness, but it fails to treat the man at the center of the story with that same seriousness. I can't see how this film can deliver on any level - whether taken as camp or as an art film.
August 24, 2010
Warren Oates takes a vow of silence until he wins Cockfighter of the Year--imagine The Karate Kid but without the kid and without the karate. Oates is one of my favorite character actors but I sure did miss his grizzled voice. His nemesis, Harry Dean Stanton, is all business with his blood splattered white shoes but I gotta say I was hoping for something a little more thunderous for their climactic cock battle. Solid exploitation fare from Roger Corman but after years of anticipation I must admit that I was a little disappointed. VF.
½ May 14, 2010
Warren Oates stars as a cockfighter trainer who takes a vow of silence as he rebuilds his career after reckless behaviour cost him the sports highest honour, the Cockfighter of the Year medal. Not for PETA backers. Finally illegal in Georgia.
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