The Set-Up

The Set-Up ★★★★

Aging boxing Stoker Nelson (Robert Ryan) has a loyal wife, and many acquaintances within his small boxing world. In his moment of crisis, however — when he’s tested down to the core of his being — he’s utterly, entirely alone. In this way, The Set-Up is a simple distillation of the existential reality at the core of every noir film: for better or for worse, we are all alone. No one can be trusted or relied upon, and the sooner we accept it, the better.

Ryan is excellent as Nelson, observing the world around him from a wan distance as he offers slow smiles in response to the successes of others, and bland acceptance when encouragement is extended to him. After he leaves his wife and hotel room, he doesn’t have single sincere interaction with anyone he encounters. He’s not deceptive, mind, just disengaged, and utterly disinterested in establishing connections that will anchor him in this place, to this world.

The end disappoints by pulling the punches that were ruthlessly landed by the source material (one of many disappointing changes made to that story), and the weak bromides offered in the last scene badly undermine the brutal bleakness that had been built up over the previous 67 minutes.

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