Mark Mahon brings a little Hollywood home with his new boxing flick, ‘Strength and Honour’.Review by Gemma.
In the arts everything is derived from something else. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are influenced and inspired by what is around us. Hence the reason why a new song reminds us of an old one or a work of art resembles a masterpiece. The world of film holds no exceptions particularly where new films and first time directors are concerned. Without being a straight out pastiche or parody, movies inevitably relate to those that came before.
Mark Mahon is one director who has clearly been influenced by the Hollywood epics. In ‘Strength and Honour’ it is painfully obvious. It could be forgiven if Mahon had directed something in the league of Gladiator or Braveheart but his boxing movie cannot support the booming music or magical moments which we are forcefed here. Rather than feel awe or admiration, Mahon’s film leaves us feeling slightly amused and a tad embarrassed. Largely this is down to Michael Madsen’s dire performance as Sean Kelleher, a man who finds himself living within the travelling community and participating in the ‘puc’, in the hope that he will win money to cover his son’s medical expenses.
A loose plot is strung together to explain away Madsen’s inability to attempt an Irish accent. (Sean was a Chicago native who married an Irish woman.) Again this may have been forgiven if Madsen was audible and emotional but he manages to look like he stumbled from Resevoir Dogs into Mahon’s film by accident. The role of desperate father is lost beneath his mutterings and stutterings, so that after twenty minutes of straining one’s ears, we no longer give a damn whether he fights or not. To put it bluntly, Madsen is boring and the initial slow pace of the film doesn’t help the matter.
On the upside, such slow pace allowed me to savour the nice shots sprinkled throughout the movie. The opening scene is quite striking with the red and white barriers of the boxing ring vibrant against the dark background. Another nice moment was captured around the campfire at the travellers’ site where, against the firelight, we can see, at close range, the sihoutte of a flute player.
Basically this film would have been much improved if it contained better actors. Vinnie Jones depends solely on his use of the word ‘boy’ to get him through. He manages to sound unlike any other traveller or Irish person in the film and that’s not a good thing. Nevertheless he is saved by having to play an over the top character whose out of place accent adds to his eccentricity. In fairness, Michael Rawley is very good as Chaser McGrath as is Gail Fitzpatrick as his mother. Rawley earns our sympathy unlike Madsen or Jones.
As a Corkonian it was a novelty to see my home on film. Unfortunately it also reminded me that this is a movie catering to the Irish Americans thus it’s no wonder that it won an award in Boston of all places. The over the top accents and old fashioned lifestyles displayed here simply add to an already stereotypical view of Ireland.
Mahon is next set to direct ‘Freedom Within the Heart’. Rumours are rife that none other than Leonardo DiCaprio will star and his IMDB profile seems to confirms this. Of course, nothing has been formally announced yet. Having seen DiCaprio also struggle with an Irish accent in ‘Gangs of New York’, I fear that another dodgy view of Ireland awaits us. The dramatic tagline accompanying Freedom is also worrying: “His bravery captivated a nation; his passion destroyed an empire; his spirit could never be broken”.
Yet we must remember that ‘Strength and Honour’ was Mahon’s directorial debut: most directors have numerous shorts and tv movies under their belt before making it big. ‘Strength and Honour’ may have been a letdown but it has earned Mahon and the Irish Film Industry some recognition. I say we not judge his directing skills too harshly yet but wait and see what lies ahead…