By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on the dark and gritty novel of the same name by Frank Bill, writer/director Tim Sutton’s adaptation is a darkly meditative piece that slowly burns until its explosively brutal climax. Jamie Bell and Frank Grillo star as foes with a similar goal–to escape the helplessness that defines their lives. Bell stars as Jarhead Earl, a tough and determined veteran/fighter, desperate to save his wife and children from their troubles of poverty and addiction. Grillo stars as Chainsaw Angus, a foul and depraved meth dealer whose business partnership with his sister Delia (Margaret Qualley) proves to be toxic and abusive. The “work” of Angus and Delia have left behind a trail of blood which attracts the attention of police officer Whalen (James Badge Dale). Both Earl and Angus head to the “Donnybrook,” where they hope to win a a savage and bloodthirsty melee for the cash prize they both need to escape their troubles.
Sutton’s succinct script and subtle direction make Donnybrook a gorgeously bleak portrait of desperate people literally fighting, tooth and nail, to survive. During the Q&A with Sutton at Fantastic Fest, he noted his decision to tone down the violence and actual fighting to create a more psychologically meditative piece. I feel that this helps build the tension and dread leading up to the climactic beats more effectively, rather than bludgeoning its audience to death with excessive brutal violence. That is not to say that Sutton completely eliminates the violent content, because this would definitely be a disservice to the messages in the film. Sutton merely is more deliberate in his use of barbarism and unleashes the brutality where most necessary.
Jamie Bell delivers a soulful and heartfelt turn as Jarhead Earl, a loving father and husband who is willing to sacrifice his body and possibly his life for his wife and children. Frank Grillo give a tremendously hateful performance as the villainous Chainsaw Angus, a lowlife meth dealer who lays waste to practically anyone and anything in his path. However, he is also a man trying to escape the fires he has started to avoid burning himself. Margaret Qualley probably impressed me the most as Angus’s sister Delia, a nearly broken and abused young lady who has had enough of her brother’s destructive behavior.
This is another film at Fantastic Fest that is definitely not feel-good material, but still makes for an amazing and powerful experience. Solid filmmaking, effective storytelling and superb acting make this a must-see. It is a dark journey not for the faint of heart.