Strangely-affecting portrait of a man who cannot find redemption from his personal flaws - particularly a big mouth that leads him to take a vow of silence for most of the film’s length. Filled with dead-pan humor, this is a tale of guy who lets his actions speak louder than his words yet, since he is a cockfighter, you constantly wonder what his actions really mean. Oddly-enough, many women are drawn to him no matter his cruelty to them or to his many cockerels â€“ who serve to visually-express the purposeless violence within him. As a narrative and a description of the paradoxical White attitude of love for animals (that is often non existent for other human beings); combined with a sadistic willingness to visit painful deaths upon those same animals (in the interests of sport and gambling), this movie has few equals. Here is the conflict at the very heart of a White culture which decided, centuries ago, that gold is more important than love.
Time Out saysCharles Willeford's adaptation of his own novel, shot on authentic locations, with Oates as the obsessive trainer of prize fighting cocks who undertakes a vow of silence after the defeat of his best bird. Even bleaker than Two Lane Blacktop, what emerges is what Phil Hardy has called 'one of the most explicit studies of repression that the American cinema has produced' (competitiveness as a substitute for sex). Its commercial failure in the States was hardly surprising. Hellman's films, always terminal in their implications, have been edging closer and closer to self-destruction. Cockfighter in many ways carries the stamp of a 'last' movie. Indeed, Hellman has directed only one since.