Donnybrook is a brutal film.
Anytime Jamie Bell’s Earl, a struggling veteran, and Frank Grillo’s Angus, an evil drug dealer, are on screen violence seems inevitable. Especially when they’re together, as the duo head to the titular bare-knuckle cage match where the winner takes home $100,000.
Writer and director Tim Sutton constantly jars and unsettles his audience, with savagely bloody fights, cold-blooded murders, sadistic sex scenes, all of which is set to a soundtrack of opera, heavy metal and country.
- Labrador retriever fetches top U.S. dog breed honor for record 28th year7 Pictures
- Oscars 2019: Red carpet looks and full list of winners36 Pictures
But at the same time, Donnybrook is surprisingly poetic, as it provides a vivid and honest look at truly desperate characters, which feels both depressingly timely and achingly realistic.
Jamie Bell talks Donnybrook
“We are making this film at a very specific moment in American history,” Bell tells Metro. “Where the middle class has been marginalized and the lower classes are literally on the brink of poverty. There is a man in the White House who stands for, I don't want to say fascist things, but bordering on fascism and has intensely right wing and conservative values. Freedom has been stripped from people.”
“But you should trust your neighbor. You should trust everyone. So making a film about the desperation of people felt very on point. This is about people having to fight to stay alive. Crossing moral lines to stay alive. Earl is very noble. He is a good parent to these children that are not his own and a loving partner to this woman who has an intense issue. But morally he crosses over the line sometimes. He’s a fighting man. He believes that you get what you fight for.”
Bell admits this was the most he has ever controlled “the authorship of a character.” So much so that while filming his first fight scene with Grillo, Bell realized that most of the dialogue written wasn’t necessary.
“Violence is all he knows how to do. He's not a wordsmith. He’s not someone who can pontificate and talk his way through things. He’s a man of violence and a man of action. So we just cut two pages of dialogue and got down to it.”
Bell also decided that extensive training wasn’t right for Earl, who he compares to a feral animal and sees as someone who knows how to throw a punch but is willing to do anything to win. Despite all of this preparation, though, come production there was one major hurdle that Bell had to overcome in order to play the pugilist
“I loathe fight scenes. I genuinely dislike filming them,” he admits. “They're exhausting. Physically, I don't like to do them. Also, it doesn’t feel like a challenge. It doesn't feel like an acting challenge to me. It feels like we have to do that and then go back to the acting stuff.”
“I know the two go hand in hand. The physicality of the character says a lot about who he is as a man and his experience and that's important. But I didn't do this movie to do a bunch of fight scenes. I did it because I thought it was an interesting portrait of being a desperate parent and the measures you'll go to to protect your family.”
Donnybrook is in select cinemas on February 15.