Sebastian Dehnhardt’s extremely polite documentary Klitschko, about Ukrainian boxing brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, never steps away from the territory that its interviewees cheerfully volunteer, even when they’ve been on the receiving end of the siblings’ fierce punches. The result isn’t quite a puff piece, but it feels like it’s building up the brothers’ self-approved mythology rather than getting under their skin. Have they really never secretly resented each other? Is the lifelong weight of their combined identity never taxing? What was up with Wladimir dating Hayden Panettiere?
The closest the film gets to roughness outside the ring is a moment (recounted in interviews) when the younger Wladimir insisted his brother leave him to train alone his own way, after the two got into what they say was their first shouting match. And even that ended with Vitali judiciously observing, “You’re a grown-up, I know you have a good team. I don’t want to put a strain on you!” The Klitschko brothers—who, thanks to the complexities of professional boxing, are currently both world heavyweight champions—come across as too well-adjusted, sensible, and hard-working to merit an entire documentary about their personal histories.
Fortunately, Klitschko’s boxing footage is spectacular, particularly the opening fight montage in which the brothers pummel opponents in voluptuous slow motion, muscles gleaming in relief, faces distorting upon impact with high-velocity gloved fists. Both brothers have been in remarkable fights, from Wladimir’s professional debut, in which he knocked his opponent out a minute and a half into the first round, to Vitali’s gruesome bout with Lennox Lewis, which was stopped because of a cut above his eye that left blood streaming everywhere.
Klitschko delves into the brothers’ backgrounds, their youth in the Soviet Union, their father’s job overseeing cleanup at Chernobyl (which they believe led to his death from cancer in July 2011), and their love of their mother. Their setbacks include injuries to be overcome and political aspirations to be explored, but ultimately, they keep to their unified front. The film acknowledges that the only great opponents left for the pair to face may be each other, but the question of whether they’d ever fight is rendered moot by the time it’s actually addressed at the end. Warrior this ain’t, and two people coming so completely from the same place as Vitali and Wladimir could never be placed in opposition.