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article imageReview: TIFF 2018: ‘Donnybrook’ is a dark journey through hell Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 15, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Donnybrook’ digs into the darkest corners of humanity to find its mostly disagreeable characters whose fates will be decided at an underground competition.
Family is everything, whether it’s a blood bond or one you’ve created with people you care for and vice versa. Either way they may not always be good for each other, but everyone does their best at least some of the time. Providing the basic necessities is key and afforded by any means necessary, if that’s what it takes. Unfortunately, no matter how infinite love and support are, they don’t pay the bills or put food on the table. In Donnybrook, a father puts it all on the line to give his family a better life.
Earl (Jamie Bell) doesn’t have many employable skills, but he’s a solid fighter… except he’s not on the professional circuit, even though he’s clearly received training. His wife is a junkie trying to do better for their son and daughter, and Earl is convinced with enough money they could get out of their scuzzy neighbourhood and his wife could get healthy. They’d also be rid of local drug dealers, Angus (Frank Grillo) and his younger sister Delia (Margaret Qualley), who have a toxic relationship that poisons their surroundings and are being chased by an alcoholic cop named Whalen (James Badge Dale). Earl believes the answer to his prayers is at the Donnybrook, where a one-night, no-holds-barred cage match offers a $100,000 payout to the winner.
This is a dark film that digs deep into the cavernous depths of humanity to find some of its key personalities and envision their abysmal actions. No one is perfect, but Earl is the closest in this picture to being a good guy even though he commits an armed felony at the start. The other characters are mostly unlikeable, although Delia attempts to turn over a new leaf in her own way. That said, Angus is more than unpleasant — he’s terrifying. His temper is explosive and has a hair trigger, though he doesn’t have to be angry to be violent as physical intimidation is his answer to any situation. He’s not the only killer in the movie, but he is the scariest.
The actors have to dig deep to find these characters, who don’t all have redeeming qualities. Writer/director Tim Sutton takes viewers to some very dark places in this film, but without the stylistic violence of a Quentin Tarantino movie it feels more malevolent; nor is there ironic music or a witty comeback to lighten the mood of a brutal attack. Qualley portrays a confused and twisted young woman and Dale’s cop has certainly lost sight of what’s right and wrong. But nothing compares to the dark places Grillo must go to play his sadistic criminal, which he does with unnerving authenticity (to the point that even he was shaky after seeing the movie for the first time at the world premiere).
In the end, the film’s climax is the cage fight at the Donnybrook. Earl arrives via a small river boat suggesting he’s just travelled the rivers Styx to Hell. More than a dozen men and one woman stand with their backs to the wire enclosure waiting for the signal to begin ripping each other apart. They vary in size and age, but they all have a singular goal and no one can stand on the sidelines waiting for the smoke to clear. The building intensity in this scene is palpable and Sutton delivers with the opening seconds being a literal, unchoreographed brawl. The whole sequence is raw and animalistic as their adrenaline radiates from the screen and instincts takeover.
The filmmakers giveth and they taketh away. A traditional happy ending was never in the cards for these individuals, but the narrative is faithful to its characters and never tries to force an inappropriate conclusion on them.
Donnybrook had its world premiere in the Platform category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2018 coverage.
Director: Tim Sutton
Starring: Frank Grillo, Jamie Bell and Margaret Qualley
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