Talking Movies

December 3, 2019

From the Archives: Strength and Honour

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

People with gravelly voices shouldn’t try to do Cork accents, or Welsh accents, or any accents requiring a lilt. Michael Madsen’s speaking voice resembles a cement mixer. Suffice it to say that his mercifully sporadic attempts at a Cork accent don’t work. Madsen certainly has the physique to impress as a retired fighter who killed his brother-in-law in a sparring session. Likewise Vinnie Jones as Smasher O’Driscoll, psychotic Puck of the Travellers at bare-knuckle boxing. But can actors rescue a script which is a riff off the back-story of The Quiet Man? Michael Madsen’s Sean Kelleher promised his wife never to fight again but after she dies and his son is diagnosed with the same fatal heart condition he must return to the ring. So far so corny, but this film never becomes so bad it’s good. The problem is Mark Mahon’s George Lucas-like credit as writer/director/producer. Even directors as great as Spielberg and Lean need that oppositional voice on set that says “Yeah, we thought about it and then…NO”.

There are far too many ‘very handy indeed’ coincidences floating about this film. The operation for Kelleher’s son Michael will cost $300,000. “Where am I going to get that kind of money?” rumbles Madsen, briefly attempting a Cork accent. Well, if he can raise $250,000, the government will provide $50,000 under the radar. Entering the Puck contest could win him $250,000…Billy Wilder said plot points were more effective the better you hid them. These ones are lit with flashing neon. This is the sort of obvious writing that Rodriguez had such fun with in Planet Terror. Strength & Honour though somehow never becomes enjoyably silly, even when the Champions League theme music is used for the build up to the climactic bout it never becomes absurdist, thanks to the committed playing of the cast especially Madsen and Patrick Bergin. The emotional impact of the relationship between Kelleher and fellow boxer Chaser McGrath (Michael Rawley) exemplifies how hard work by the actors can overcome the ham-fistedness of the script.

The visual flair shown by an in-jokey use of Ocean Colour Scene’s ‘100 Mile High City’ for a tracking shot across a number of bare knuckle boxing bouts in a Fight Club style grimy locale is quite startling, and suggests a level of inventiveness that Mahon also displays in his theatrical opening with a boxing ring of white light in pitch darkness. The fight scenes are well choreographed, especially the final showdown between Kelleher and O’Driscoll, and Richard Chamberlin has great fun as the hard-bitten boxing coach urging our hero through the pain barrier. Mahon proposes to direct an Irish Braveheart about Brian Boru. There is enough promise in this predictable outing to suggest that with a talented writer and a strict producer that might not be an embarrassment.

2/5

November 16, 2011

Justice

Nicolas Cage gets involved in vigilantism masterminded by an increasingly sinister Guy Pearce but director Roger Donaldson doesn’t tighten the Hitchcockian screws.

Nicolas Cage plays ye typically inspirational English teacher at ye typically deprived inner city high school in New Orleans. He’s married to January Jones’ cellist and plays chess with his principal and good friend Harold Perrineau. And then a rapist brutally attacks Jones, and at the hospital a shaven-headed Guy Pearce approaches Cage with an offer of true justice – in return for owing a small favour at an unspecified date in the future to Pearce’s shadowy organisation. Cage of course soon discovers such favours include not just surveillance or logistics but a murder in return, and, as the net tightens, finds himself running from the police over a murder he didn’t commit, estranged from his wife who’s convinced he’s keeping something from her, and subject to wonderfully justified paranoia as Pearce’s organisation seems to pervade every strata of New Orleans.

Pearce’s introduction recalls Steed offering a hospital surgeon help in avenging his wife’s murder in The Avengers pilot, and Mr Chapel in Vengeance Unlimited offering victims a chance to get even at the cost of a million dollars or a favour, while there’s also a touch of the Twilight Zone in that the person you just killed may not actually have been guilty of anything – but now you sure are. Cage reins in his craziness for the most part but effectively channels his eccentricities into portraying the increasing nerviness of a peaceful man forced into violent confrontation after violent confrontation. This time the bad lieutenant is the always great Xander Berkeley who may be utterly corrupt or perversely honourable somehow. Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter is criminally underused as Jones’ best friend, but Harold Perrineau fares better in another studiedly ambiguous turn.

Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, 13 Days) is a good director experienced in paranoia, but raw material that Hitchcock would have relished exploiting for suspense and black comedy is perfunctorily rushed through. The escalation of Pearce’s machinations invokes Strangers on a Train’s trading of murders to elude detection, and the fact that no one can be trusted, that whistle-blowing journalists, trustworthy cops, anyone at all could suddenly mutter the Edmund Burke derived shibboleth “The hungry rabbit jumps” and reveal themselves to be part of the organisation is prime Hitch. The best wasted set-up is Cage breaking into a newspaper office, and then having to walk through the distribution bay where his face is on every front page… Donaldson instead prioritises shoot-outs, chases and unlikely action-man heroics.

This is solidly entertaining, but feels far longer than its running time. The great high concept so obviously buried in here but failed by the execution honestly just frustrates me too much to give it the 3 stars it probably deserves for about scraping being good.

2/5

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