Based on the gripping novel of the same name by Pete Hamill, Flesh & Blood describes the developing career of a talented heavyweight - Bobby Fallon (Berenger), who begins training as a boxer in prison, where he's doing a two-year stint for assaulting a cop. While in the prison boxing program, he's discovered by Gus Caputo (Cassavettes), a trainer at a gym on the outside, who sees the makings of a champion in Fallon. Cassavettes is marvelous in this role as the devoted teacher who appreciates the beauty of boxing as opposed to the dollar signs associated with managing a world champion. When Bobby is released from prison, Gus is waiting to turn him into a world-class fighter.
Boxing and his Mom are really all that Bobby's got, his father, Jack, having abandoned the family when Bobby was just five years old. But Kate never divorced Jack, never entirely let him go, and seeks him out sporadically, a fact Bobby didn't learn until he was 11. Bobby is obsessed with both Jack and Kate. He loves Kate to the point of wanting to takes Jack's place in her life, but at some level hungers to know Jack, too, or at least the part of Jack that is also part of him. Kate, who sees her husband in her son, is torn between her own compulsions to substitute her son for the usually-absent Jack and the knowledge that fulfilling her desires will ultimately devastate her son.
It is Kate who controls what happens in the relationship, and Bobby who struggles mightily and silently with everything that happens - both in his boxing career and in his personal life. Particularly in the book, Bobby's character is almost child-like; he's trying to find his way back into a world in which Gus and boxing are the only stabilizing influences. When parent Jack finally re-enters the picture in a big way, you find yourself wanting to pummel both Jack and Kate for the damage they've done to their son. When all is said and done, you wonder if Bobby will ever recover.
In both the book and the movie, little exists beyond the boxing and the psychological lives of the lead characters. They exist in an emotional world that is, on some level, apart from everyone else. If the film has a flaw, it is that Berenger is too handsome (and too likeable) to be the isolated Bobby who has never had an intensely loving relationship with any woman other than his mother. In the book, Bobby has, at least, encounters with prostitutes; in the movie, there's no one else but Kate.
This film is very, very hard to find, but well worth seeing. If you can't find it, though, the book is an excellent read.