Movie of the Day – Knuckle
April 23, 2012 2 Comments
So ignore the fact that the trailer looks like the latest UFC fight promotion on Spike TV, for Knuckle is more than just a highlight reel of backyard brawls and sweaty guys lumbering haymakers to one another. Sure there is a lot of barrel chested fighting going on in the trailer, but what you realize is that we are getting an intimate look into a society that we have only heard about in passing film or new stories. We know about gypsies and the travel pack of families that roam the countryside, but they are their own world and society, one which we have no first hand knowledge about. This is what makes Knuckle interesting, the base animal civility of solving disputes between families with good old fisticuffs.
The Travellers are a band of Irish people linked by family and often living apart from the larger community. While the various clans of Travellers are traditionally united by blood or marriage, that doesn’t mean they all get along, and filmmaker Ian Palmer explores one long-running feud and how it plays itself out in this documentary. The Quinn McDonagh family and the Joyce family are cousins, but they’ve also been fighting among themselves for generations, long enough that the basis of their anger is no longer clear in anyone’s mind. The two families regularly attempt to settle their disagreements through brutal bare-knuckle boxing contests, in which few moves are forbidden and the strongest man wins. For years, that man has been James Quinn McDonagh, a gifted pugilist who can defeat nearly anyone, but after losing interest in fighting James leaves the job of defending his family’s honor to someone else. That responsibility falls to his younger brother, Michael Quinn McDonagh, who wants a chance to prove himself after a humiliating loss to Big Joe Joyce several years before. Big Joe enjoys sending abusive messages to the Quinn McDonagh family, prompting more fights and perpetuating a cycle of violence that seems unlikely to end. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Filmed over the course of 12 years is an incredible feat for a director, but getting inside the closed off community of Travellers is a lot of work that Ian Palmer takes on. Knuckle is a study on the fights and feuds that have been brewing between the three families for generations. With a society that is unlike that of the “civilized”, mainstream notion, their disputes are resolved with fist fights and money. Each family and band have a champion that they usher out to deliver, devastating beat downs and bring honor to their family. Knuckle is the real life representation of what bare knuckle boxing is really like, instead of the flashy stuff they show in Guy Ritchie movies.
It is both brutal and exhilarating to watch the illegal brawls take place amongst the desolate countryside of Ireland. Wet, meaty thuds of bone slamming against bone and animalistic sounds of war cries stemming from the victors triumph over a lesser opponent. The fights run on pure adrenaline with the shouts of Gaelic tongues encouraging and disparaging the fighters in the ring, all for the right to call one family better than the other. Over 12 years, enough footage has been gathered that only leads us to believe that these Travellers are nothing but brutes and beastly men, but they fight like gladiators, bringing honor to their ludus.
Knuckle is a far more entertaining film, rather than an enlightening film. With 12 years of footage to go off of, there isn’t a lot of insight given into the make-up of the families or about the Travellers in general. I never really got a good sense of understanding about why they roam the countryside or even the meaning behind a lot of the feuds, rather this is almost like a meat head friendly documentary. I am not saying it is a bad documentary, but with so much time spent amongst the Travellers, I was looking for something more than just boxing matches. That doesn’t take anything away from the hard hitting footage that Palmer brings to us and it surely is eye opening to see civility thrown out the window and replace with thrown punches. A strong documentary that kind of plays out like a sports documentary, where glory is being the person not beaten to a pulp and bloodier than the defeated opponent.
*image via RottenTomatoes