With a screenplay adapted by Leonard Gardner from his own novel, John Huston's drama examines the meager hopes and resigned dreams of small-time boxers.
In limbo between retirement and his youthful prime, alcoholic farm laborer Tully (Stacy Keach) shacks up with fellow outcast Oma (Susan Tyrrell) and keeps trying to make a boxing comeback, but his personal demons repeatedly overpower his ambitions.
Meanwhile, fellow Stockton, CA resident and budding fighter Ernie (Jeff Bridges) takes Tully's advice to join trainer Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto)'s gym and make something of himself.
Learning the tough lesson that winning is not as easy as it sounds, Ernie is still determined to get what he can out of boxing and, unlike Tully, not let disappointments get the best of him.
Shot on location in Stockton by Conrad Hall, the film maintains a realistic, slice-of-life view of Tully's and Ernie's struggles, eschewing theatrical boxing victories for psychological and social details.
As Huston avowed at the Cannes Film Festival that Fat City's virtue was its modesty, critics agreed that he had made his best film in two decades; and Tyrrell was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. However, despite the praise and the efforts of producer Ray Stark, Fat City failed at the box office.
Even so, its unromanticized depiction of modest wins and personal losses revealed that old Hollywood pro Huston had adapted well to the late '60s-early '70s New Hollywood grit, and the film revived his artistic standing.