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“Donnybrook” Is Deadly Serious About Its Violent Nature

Filmmaker Tim Sutton has a dark view of the world. He’s shown that in previous features, but really doubles down with his newest work. Take any one scene from Donnybrook, Sutton’s new release that opened this weekend, and you’ll see an example of this. Grim and joyless, this portrait of desperate violence and working class Middle Americans is often tough to watch. Well acted and just as disturbing as intended, it’s a very singular vision of society. For some, it may make for an utterly hypnotic experience, while for others, it may be just too much to handle. For yours truly, the truth is somewhere in between.

The movie is a gritty drama about the lengths people are willing to go in order to dig themselves out from the pits they’ve fallen into. Specifically, three people in “Jarhead” Earl (Jamie Bell), “Chainsaw” Angus (Frank Grillo), and his sister Delia (Margaret Qualley). Each of them are headed to something called the Donnybrook, which is an illegal cage fight located in a secluded part of the woods. Anyone crazy enough to enter the bare knuckled brawl and win gets a $100,000 prize. Earl is a father of a young son and a former marine, hoping to use the winnings in order to provide a better life for his family. Angus is an absolutely insane drug dealer, someone who leaves corpses wherever he goes. As for Delia, she’s tired of Angus and hoping to escape the life of crime that’s been all she knows. Her path brings her together with Earl, with it all culminating in what may literally turn out to be a fight to the death. The aforementioned Sutton writes and directs, while the supporting cast includes James Badge Dale, Pat Healy, and more. Jens Bjørnkjær and Phil Mossman composed the score together, while the cinematography is by David Ungaro.

This film is about as bleak as it gets. There’s nothing wrong with that either, just to be clear. The thing is, Donnybrook never is quite able to develop an entry point for the audience. You’re either on board with its brutality or you aren’t. The performances by Bell, Dale, Grillo, and Qualley are very much on point, while Sutton’s direction is fluid. The whole thing is just a bit too over the top at times for how serious it wants to be taken. Humor wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate here, but the tone is just so venomously black that you’ll need a shower afterwards. Some folks might find it brilliant, though others will be turned off. Again, I’m somewhere in the middle, appreciative of it, but frustrated by the flick as well.

Interestingly, Tim Sutton has teamed back up with his Donnybrook cast members Jamie Bell and Margaret Qualley for a new film called The Chain. Sutton is an interesting filmmaker, while Bell and Qualley are talented actors, so this does have potential. Sutton’s movie Dark Night was oddly hypnotic, so while this one fell a bit short for me, there’s no reason not to look forward to this upcoming collaboration. Bell especially has never really done anything like what Sutton asked him to do here. As for Qualley, she’s a real exciting up and comer, so anything featuring the both of them is worth having on your cinematic radar.

Now playing, Donnybrook won’t be for everyone. In fact, it’s not really for anyone. That being said, it’s proving to be divisive, which means there’s some form of an audience. Yours truly? I remain caught in the middle. This is a movie that I actually am eager to revisit at some point, since it could certainly grow in esteem for me. For now, it’s a film that’s just shy of a recommendation. If you’re a big fan of Bell, this could be a whole new way to look at him. The flick has its merits, no doubt about that, just it’s presented within a very mixed bag. If you seek it out, just know what you’re getting yourself into…

Donnybrook is in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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