Diggstown (1992)
Diggstown (1992)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: August 14th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Michael Ritchie Actors: James Woods, Louis Gossett Jr., Bruce Dern, Oliver Platt, Heather Graham, Randall “Tex” Cobb, Thomas Wilson Brown

 


 

A

t the Winfield Prison in Georgia, inmate Gabriel Caine (James Woods) uses a boxing match as a distraction for an escape attempt – for his pal Alex Dupris. The warden (Marshall Bell) is furious when the prisoner vanishes, but can’t pin anything on Caine – who has made over $50,000 in lockup by helping five convicts flee. As he’s due to be released in a week, Caine has his associate, card sharp and expert pool player Fitz (Oliver Platt) set up the next big con in Oliver County’s Diggstown (named after champion Charles Macum Diggs). There, connected businessman and former professional boxing manager John Gillon (Bruce Dern, always a dependable antagonist), who now runs a local gym but secretly owns the whole town, is the prime target.

Caine’s first stop is to acquire half-a-million dollars from mobster Victor Corsini (Orestes Matacena), then take on a $2,000 losing wager against Gillon – to draw him in. Meanwhile, Fitz hustles a hot rod Corvette away from Gillon’s son Robby (Thomas Wilson Brown) before drunkenly engaging in a wild bet against John ($100,000 against $1,000), insisting that underrated, unknown heavyweight boxer “Honey” Roy Palmer (Louis Gossett Jr.) can defeat any ten of Diggstown’s own pugilists. And then Caine manifests out of thin air to monetarily back the deal. In two weeks time, the tournament will begin; but Palmer isn’t yet in on the con, nor does the Fort Worth, Texas resident inspire much credibility, as his last recorded fight took place in 1972 and he’s now 48 years old.

“He’s playin’ you!” Though Woods always seems to portray a questionable hero – or a downright crook, like his “Dirty Harry” type turn in “Cop” (1988) – here, he’s rather charismatic as a cunning conman. He’s even given a romantic subplot with a yardbird’s sister (Heather Graham as Emily Forrester). In the other corner, Gossett is completely convincing (“I ain’t made of glass, kid”), even though he’s not in the greatest shape, the odds are highly unlikely, and many of the other players are larger-than-life. It’s very much a fantasy picture, with plenty of humor edging its way in, but it undoubtedly possesses a level of genuine thrills as it subtly tackles themes of racism, loyalty, and risk.

Unscrupulous things abound in the largely overlooked “Diggstown” (also known as “Midnight Sting,” based on the novel “The Diggstown Ringers” by Leonard Wise) – from spying on the opponents, bribing contenders to take a fall, and drugging the water, to providing hookers to tire out the opposition, employing shady bankers, and manipulating physical and mental stamina. It’s an ex-professional against ten amateurs, but it’s the continual swindling, extra side bets, and constant upping of the ante that gets the blood flowing. There’s even a bit of gangster drama, murder, and torture (all expectedly lacking in severity). A few training montages reminiscent of “Rocky” and some great boxing scenes also make an appearance, generating commendable suspense and intrigue for the many surprises that await (luring the audience in to the very end, exactly like the mark); the pacing is fast and the twists superbly unpredictable. And the finale packs the sucker punch to end all sucker punches – though it’s so astonishingly memorable that it may diminish the value of repeat viewings.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10