"The most intelligent heavyweights ever," theorizes one talking head in Sebastian Dehnhardt's Klitschko, the title an infamous surname in the world of boxing that conjures up a double threat. Dehnhardt's doc is an up-close-and-personal study of the Ukrainian brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko via an abundance of archival footage melded with candid interviews with their mother and father, their trainers, and the recognizable fighters they faced, and the six-foot-six heavyweight boxing champions of the world themselves.
It was big news in 2008 when the siblings, who had similarly rocked their sport the way the Williams sisters took over tennis (though Richard Williams didn't make his daughters swear an oath never to compete with each other like the supportive but stressed mother of the Klitschkos did), became the first brothers in boxing to hold world titles at the same time. What's less well known is how their Cold War upbringing as transient military brats (their father was a first responder to the Chernobyl disaster) obsessed with officially banned martial-arts flicks shaped their approach both to life and to their chosen profession. Indeed, what made the brothers so hard to figure out for their Western counterparts in the ring had much to do with their complicated nature outside of it. One former champ is baffled as to why two brainy guys with PhDs who could speak four languages (the brothers address the German director and his crew in German) would willingly pick a career that in America is often viewed as a life-and-death sport of last resort. To the Klitschkos, boxing was never a crime of passion, but a cold and calculated game—not unlike their ongoing chess match, images of which are sprinkled throughout the doc. One talking head even describes Wladimir's technique as being like a chess game, while a trainer adds that Vitali, who started as a kickboxer, is made of stone, Wladimir of clay; the elder had to be chiseled, the younger molded.
Smartly, Dehnhardt's film eschews hype and goes far beyond mere talk, shows as well as tells, by including fascinatingly instructive slow-mo shots of both men's fights to highlight the differences between the brawny duo, often mistaken for identical twins. The more we see, the easier it is to view Vitali and Wladimir as individuals rather than, as the media often portrays them, some two-headed machine produced in the U.S.S.R. and polished in Germany. In the process, a poignant love story between two brothers, with the younger attempting to forge his own identity and escape the elder's shadow, emerges. None other than Germany's controversial pugilist Max Schmeling wrote Vitali when he lost his title—and they became friends. When Lennox Lewis's opponent subsequently dropped out it also opened the door to giving Vitali a new chance in America. This brutal battle sequence, heightened with music, is where Klitschko truly gets thrilling, the Lewis fight having been an equal matchup between two huge, heavy-hitting guys. And the Klitschkos' trainer, who had formerly worked with Lewis, even sheds light on the fight. As one reporter put it, summing up the outcome in another writer's words, "Lennox Lewis won the fight. Vitali won the event."
And Wladimir, too, like his sibling, touched bottom then bounced right back. "One hit can decide everything," he reminds, explaining that there are no underdogs. "My enemy, my opponent, was my body," Vitali allows when he decides to retire, only to go on to hold political office in his corrupt homeland—then to fight again! When Wladimir eventually prepares for a comeback against the champ who took his title, the Klitschkos' trainer notes that they had to get ready mentally above all—that they studied like "hitmen" taking down a victim. And it was that showdown that finally elevated Wladimir psychologically and physically to his big brother's equal. The Klitschko brothers may lack the murderous drama of Cain and Abel, but they certainly draw blood from their character arcs.