Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Movie Review: Donnybrook

Donnybrook * ½ / *****
Directed by: Tim Sutton.
Written by: Tim Sutton based on the novel by Frank Bill.
Starring: Jamie Bell (Jarhead Earl), Frank Grillo (Chainsaw Angus), James Badge Dale (Whalen), Margaret Qualley (Delia Angus), Chris Browning (McGill), Adam Bartley (Done), James Landry Hébert (Poe), Pat Healy (Eldon), Alexander Washburn (Moses), David Myers Gregory (Percel).
When the name of your two lead characters are Jarhead Earl and Chainsaw Angus, you should probably be aware that what you’re making is a B-movie. When the plot involves the pair of them making their way to what is essentially a bare knuckles version of WWE’s Royal Rumble in the middle of a forest, you should definitely be award that you’re making a B-movie. And when you have a scene in which Chainsaw Angus tells his sister, Delia, to not just kill a man – but kill him as you are having sex with him – and do it at the exact moment when he climaxes, which we see play out, you should undeniably know that you are making a B-movie, and an exploitive one at that. There is nothing wrong with B-movies, ones that mix sex and violence in interesting, disturbing, entertaining ways. Some of my favorite films are B-films. And some of those B-films also have something interesting to say – something that they probably couldn’t get across in a non-genre film, because audiences would react poorly to that. These movies often do. But what you cannot do – or at least shouldn’t – is make a film like Donnybrook, which is basically a violent exploitation flick, drain all the fun out of it, make it a study in miserabilism, and also think that you are making some grand statement about life on the margins in today’s America. That’s a recipe to end up with a film like this – a sluggish bore of a film – albeit one made with skill by director Tim Sutton, and featuring a pretty good lead turn by Jamie Bell. It’s just not a film that works in the way they want it to.
In the film, Jarhead Earl (Bell) and Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo) are enemies, basically because (it seems anyway) that Chainsaw Angus is a drug dealer, who keeps selling to Jarhead Earl’s wife, who wants to kick, but cannot. They get into a fight in the film’s opening scene – although it’s not much of a fight to be honest, as Chainsaw Angus makes quick work of Jarhead Earl (no, I’m not going to stop using their full names). Chainsaw Angus’ partner is his sister, Delia Angus (wait a minute, I’m just realizing now that Angus is Chainsaw’s last name) – played by Margaret Qualley in one of the most thankless roles I can imagine. There is some sort of weird unhealthy incestuous vibe (as opposed to a healthy incestuous vibe) between the pair of them – but after that moment mentioned in the above paragraph, when Chainsaw Angus makes her have sex with a creep played by Pat Healy (who, as always, is fine as a creep) and shoot him as he’s cumming their relationship gets strained. She meets Jarhead Earl out on the road – he’s running away from the law with his family, although he leaves his wife and daughter, but brings his 8-year-old son along with him (as one does, when travelling to a bare knuckle cage match) on his way to the Donnybrook – which he says far too often. Chainsaw Angus isn’t far behind them – and looking for vengeance. I get why he’s mad at Delia, but what he does to Jarhead Earl doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Oh, I almost forgot, there’s also Whalen (James Badge Dale) – a corrupt local law man after both of them.
Donnybrook is a miserable film – literally, it is miserable. Every character in the film is miserable from the beginning of the film to the end of the film. The violence in the film is pretty consistent, and bloody as hell at that. Everyone in the film, takes a beating, and then just keeps right on going anyway. Considering the film is called Donnybrook, it’s more than a little surprisingly that we wait about 85 minutes of a 101 minute film before we even get to the aforementioned Donnybrook. This can work in some cases – look at Brawl in Cell Block 99 – which takes use about two hours to get to Cell Block 99, and another 20 minutes before a brawl there happens to occur. Here though, it’s all just an excuse to parade around miserable people, looking miserable. The movie beats you over the head with its “point” for almost its entire runtime – and just in case you don’t get it, has a character just out and out say it in the film’s final scene.
The film was directed by Tim Sutton – who has undeniable talent. I really disliked his last film as well – Dark Night – which was a tone poem of sorts leading up to an event inspired by the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Again, that film was well made – as this one is – but also completely misguided. That film felt like pure exploitation of a tragedy. Here, he’s just wallowing in misery. The film is extremely violent and sexual, sometimes in ways that make you uncomfortable (I’m not entirely sure deliberately, but whatever). I don’t really have a problem with that. It’s also so incredibly boring, which is worse, and makes the mistake of thinking that anything this “dark” is more “real” – and that it has something important to say. It doesn’t.

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