Review: DONNYBROOK Pulls No Punches


Donnybrook has an intriguing and ambitious, but at times slightly confusing narrative with an interesting theme that benefits from great performances.
Technical Merit

Donnybrook is a new film written and directed by Tim Sutton based on the novel by Frank Bill. The story follows two men who prepare to fight in a bare-knuckle cage fight in which the winner receives a prize of $100,000. It debuted at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival to positive reviews.

The narrative structure of the movie is quite interesting. There are a few parallel storylines that are intercut together, and while the connection between them is initially inevident, it does become clearer over the course of the film. This is certainly effective in building suspense and also causes a stir of the mind.

As a result of the unorthodox narrative, there were a few pacing issues with the movie. Thankfully, the tension is there regardless, but the film is much more tightly paced towards the end. In the earlier half of the movie, the pacing is much more leisurely and the script feels like it is meandering through the different interactions.

donnybrook bag
Jamie Bell as “Jarhead Earl” in Tim Sutton’s Donnybrook. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

The characters are also very unusually-written. The protagonist is definitely very compelling, although the choices he makes aren’t always the most sympathetic or understandable. For example, it’s never really explained why he brings his son along on the journey, and this is one of the most frustrating parts of the story. The supporting characters, on the other hand, are all somewhat underdeveloped. They seem like nothing more than caricatures.

That being said, undoubtedly the best part of the film is its exploration of its theme of desperation. The different storylines are all tied together with this thematic and emotional connection that is actually quite profound. It isn’t easy to pick up on at first, but once you do, it is sure to impress.

donnybrook grillo
Frank Grillo as “Chainsaw Angus” and Margaret Qualley as “Delia Angus” in Tim Sutton’s Donnybrook. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

The performances in the movie are absolutely great. Jamie Bell does a wonderful job as the protagonist. He gives a deeply nuanced, layered turn as a character with a great deal of complexity. Margaret Qualley is also great, having many of the characteristics of the classic femme fatale that seem to have inspired the character.

In technical terms, the film is very impressive too. The visuals are very dark and gritty, and it works tremendously to complement the very dark tone of the script. The cinematography is great, using close-ups and long takes to great effect. Additionally, the movie contains some short, but effective and well-done bursts of extremely brutal violence.

Overall, Donnybrook was a mostly impressive film. It’s very ambitious and tough to think about, but it is definitely a rewarding watch.

Donnybrook opens in theaters beginning February 15 and is available on VOD February 22.


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Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.


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