‘Donnybrook’ is a bleak and dull tale of redemption

by Tim English on February 15, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Swiss Fist]

Donnybrook, the dreary and hopeless drama from Tim Sutton, is a brutal and darkly brooding picture that follows a family man’s violent journey to free his family from the doom of a poverty stricken life and an inevitable hopeless existence by fighting and stealing his way to a bareknuckle brawl. It’s a tediously slow film, that while it making a powerful point at times, is hard to follow, and makes it even harder to care about the characters.

The plot is tricky and simple but yet somehow also convoluted. Let’s start with Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell, Snowpiercer). He’s a military vet who can’t seem to get his life on track, but he likes to scrap and he can take a beating. He’s desperate to find a better life for his his kids and his wife, who is a drug addict who buys meth from Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo, Captain America: Civil War), who is really just a violent piece of shit of a person who rolls around with his sister and basically kills people.

The film explores the paths of these two men, using violence in similar yet starkly contrasting ways in order to find their own roads but ultimately run together as one. Sometimes the violence is a character in and of itself, erupting randomly and suddenly and at times is the only audible exposition above a whisper. Most of the time the characters spew dialogue in a hushed mumble, so it’s impossible to really know what anyone’s actual intentions are.

Earl figures the only way to find this better life is to enter a brutal bareknuckle psycho cage fight, the titular Donnybrook, where the last man standing limps away with a hundred grand. Of course, the only way for Earl to get the entry fee is armed robbery. He’s a man without options, playing the shitty cards of life he’s been dealt. It’s an intense performance from Bell. He doesn’t say much but his actions speak volumes and his love for his family never in question.

Grillo is a beast in this movie, although while his character is the antagonist and we are supposed to find him to be a vile and loathsome bastard, his actions become increasingly over the top. He speaks with his fists and anything else he can use to smash against someone’s head. His sister, Delia (Margaret Qualley), is a complicated disaster. Their twisted relationship is a little too dysfunctional and we won’t even get into a sex scene involving her character that will have you wondering what the fuck this movie is trying to say.

James Badge Dale (24, Iron Man 3), as usual, steps in with a solid if overshadowed performance as the fuzz on the trail of the murderous brother and sister duo. But he has his own drug problems and really isn’t that likable. Hell, none of these characters are though, and it makes it hard to find a rooting interest in the darkness.

Written and directed by Sutton, based on the novel of the same name by Frank Bill, the film aims to make brash statements about how violence is a product of a community and social class imprisoned by poverty, addiction, abuse, and crime. The film’s look permeates that hopelessness, drowning it’s characters in shadowy grays and blues.

It helps set the mood, but it’s for a lost cause. The film is bleak, too bleak. The performances are strong, but the characters aren’t likable. And when you don’t care, after a while, the beatings just feel like overkill.

Donnybrook is bold and brash, violent and relentless, but ultimately dull.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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