Two 6-foot-6 brothers, both world heavyweight boxing champions. There's no other sibling story in sports to equal it, except perhaps tennis's Williams sisters.
And unlike them, WBC champ Vitali Klitschko and his brother, WBA and IBF champ Wladimir, are unlikely to ever face each other -- owing to a solemn promise given to their mother Nadia back in Ukraine.
Klitschko (at the Projection Booth on Gerrard), by German director Sebastian Denhart, is a documentary that screams for a dramatic film treatment. It's a story that encompasses events far afield from Michael Buffer screaming, "Let's get ready to rumble!" -- from the Cold War to Chernobyl to the farce of amateur athleticism -- before settling into an intimate POV of boxing itself, showing us the tragic and the comic.
As an example of the latter, we see rough video footage of the brothers' 1996 pitch meeting at the home of the infamous boxing promoter Don King, giving the boys the "sign with me" spiel. At one point, he offers to entertain them, and sits down to play, unbelievably, a piece from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Curious, the brothers look closer and discover the keys are moving independently and that King uses a player piano as part of his con. Concluding he was dishonest, they didn't sign.
Their origins come straight from the Cold War. Their father was a Soviet Air Force officer, who, during his commission, uprooted his wife and boys from Kiev to a region of Kazakhstan near the Chinese border.
In 1986, Wladimir Klitschko Sr. was one of the first responders to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He battled a Chernobyl-related cancer for years before finally succumbing this year. The younger Wladimir recalls playing with paper boats in Kiev in pools of radioactive water washed off the emergency vehicles that returned from the reactor.
Vitali, meanwhile, was the big brother and protector, and the first to fight -- becoming the Soviet national kickboxing champion after the sport was legalized there in 1989 (a status that gave Vitali his first chance to compete in America).
They boxed in Kiev, and later in Germany (the brothers speak fairly fluent German throughout the subtitled movie, Russian and Ukrainian being only occasionally heard). At one point, when Vitali was disqualified from an amateur match for status violations, his brother stepped in seamlessly with few people even noticing.
Director Denhart seems to have absorbed a lot of ESPN in his documentary style, using cheesily emotional music and a predictable narrative arc. Still, the drama of the story and the you-are-there footage lifts the tale. Dogged throughout their pre-title years with accusations of "lack of heart" (probably motivated by xenophobia), the brothers' brutal "lessons" at the hands of the likes of Lennox Lewis, Chris Byrd and the now-blinded Lamon Brewster, show champion personalities being forged in the most cruel of sports. Wladimir suffers a brain hemorrhage. In his fight with Lewis, Vitali takes an eye socket cut so deep it requires 180 stitches, internal and external, to repair.
There's all that, and Vitali's political career (he becomes head of a minority party in a Ukrainian parliament so fractious, debate ironically leads to fisticuffs, also captured on video).