I found myself in the muggy, violent, and male world of Great Britain today at Sundance with my first two films being the documentary Knuckle and the dramatic feature Tyrannosaur. Press lines can be brutal at times – they fill up fast even when you get there early, so unfortunately I only got into 3 out the 5 I wanted to see this first Saturday of the festival.

That’s the nature of the beast.

In addition to the two films mentioned above, I also witnessed the travesty of The Ledge, featuring talented actors like Terrence Howard, Patrick Wilson, and Liv Tyler, who find themselves in an earnest melodramatic thriller that would be bad even for a Lifetime movie.

Knuckle

A 12-year-in-the-making documentary that plunges us into the world of bare knuckle boxing and vicious Irish feuds from newcomer filmmaker Ian Palmer. This is a film that shares bloody punches and sardonic wit as we see various brothers and cousins fight each other the back-roads of Ireland. It plays out like a true rough and tumble version of Michael Apted’s Up series.

Irish Traveler families Quinn Macdoughs, Joyces, Nevins, and various other clans have been feuding on and off for years around the UK. The families have been fighting for ages – to some of them it’s about revenge, others for money but they all want male family honor.

As Palmer becomes more involved with the Quinn Macdoughs, he and his camera become a reflexive character that finds itself trapped with them. When one of the many brutal and hilarious fights involve two 60+ year old men,Palmer realizes he has turn from being a spectator to supporter of these vicious events.

Throughout the years we also notice the next male generation of Quinn Macdoughs grow up from little guys to young adults, as Palmer observes them from the sidelines  – showing them as they start to throw around punches. The circle of violence is a never ending story in this world. A true gut punch of a film that gives us an unflinching look on world that has very little access to outsiders.

Tyrannosaur

Actor Paddy Considine (In America, Dead Man’s Shoes) makes his directorial debut in this dark and grisly poetic slice of suburban British life. The great grizzle face, Peter Mullan (Trainspotting, The Magdalene Sisters) stars as Joseph, a middle aged retired drunk that is quite possibly the angriest man in all of town. He beats dogs, immigrants, and any young hooligan that crosses his path within our first 20 minutes of meeting him. That is, until he meets Hannah played by Olivia Coleman (Hot Fuzz) a devoutly religious women with her own dark suburban secrets. Eddie Marsen (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) as Hannah’s husband provides a frightening atmosphere of domestic violence and shock as the film’s antagonist.

The script, also written by Considine, has a buried tenderness within the story’s many dark twists and turns. Yet once you know what “Tyrannosaur” means the film takes on a bitter-sweetness to its world of human piss and bile.

This a tough film to watch, especially if your a dog lover, but a rewarding experience of great acting and directorial voice from the United Kingdom.

The Ledge

Since it is my first time at the festival, I’ve been warned that I’ll watch at least one movie during my time here that’s so bad that it could only have played here. The Ledge is that movie by far with its faux-earnest philosophical dialogue, over the top acting, and by-the-numbers thriller plot. A film that even Tommy Wiseau would have not been proud to make.

A possible suicide jumper named Gavin played by Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) has until noon to tell his long-winded story to Detective Hollis played by Terrence Howard. He describes an adulterous love affair he had with his married next door neighbor, Shauna, played by Liv Tyler. As the clock ticks down we find out that Shauna’s fundamentalist Christian husband played by Patrick Wilson wants him dead because Gavin is not only having an affair with his wife, but because he doesn’t believe in God.

A majority of the film’s running time takes place with Hunnam, Tyler, and Wilson in sappy dialogue discussing homosexuality and current religious politics. These scenes are offensive to both Atheists and Christians alike. Gavin is also so politically correct he prides himself on having a gay HIV positive roommate played by Christopher Gorham, who has no need to be in this film’s ho-hum plot.

The writer/director Matt Chapman has such a laundry list of bad thrillers and comedy scripts (like Bruce Willis erotic dud Color of Night), that it is a huge surprise this talented cast would attach themselves to this rotting material. Howard is even an executive producer on this film, which would explain why he keeps balling big tear drops throughout the film.

By the 30 minute mark you just want Gavin to jump and not tell this pitiful story. The only thing that saves this disastrous film is Liv Tyler’s boobs, which try to get every chance of screen time possible.

Reject Pick of the Day:

Knuckle because Ian Palmer’s gut wrenching documentary gives you an experience unlike anything you’ve seen before in boxing or family dramas.

Click here for the latest from Sundance 2011


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