Fantastic Fest Review: Knuckle

25 Sep

I usually have a harder time reviewing documentaries than I do films that give me a made up story.  I’m not sure why this is.  I find documentaries just as fascinating, if not more so, than movies of fiction, but I still have a much more difficult time explaining what I like, or dislike about them.

Maybe I feel strange giving an opinion on a picture of a real person.  It’s a lot easier to explain my opinion of a machine-gun toting schoolgirl, than a real person struggling to get by in life.  I think the key is to remember that you’re not judging the subject, but the film itself.  And I consistently have a hard time doing that.

Luckily, the film Knuckle is just as fascinating as its subjects.

Knuckle began its life as a wedding video that its director, Ian Palmer, was hired to make for a family of Irish Travelers by the name of Quinn.  He was so fascinated by these people, and their violent way of solving disputes with other families, that he followed them for twelve years.  Basically, the three families of Quinn, Joyce, and Nevin, while connected through the blood of their common great-grandparents, have hated each other for decades now.  And while the feud has occasionally spilled into open warfare, it is typically held in check by a series of organized bare-knuckled boxing matches.

Unable to stay away from such a fascinating cultural environment, Palmer became entangled in this family web.  He filmed fights, family gatherings, arguements between families, and simple, everyday life.  Through his lens we seem family members grow from teenagers into parents, scrawny kids into fighting champions.

And through it all is the imposing figure of James Quinn Mcdonagh:  idolized leader of his family, unwilling participant, and undefeated fighter.  We watch James grow older, we see him become wiser, and see his dedication to his family endure.

There are parts of this documentary that are a little slow.  But that didn’t bother me.  It was nice to see the intimate family moments in-between these battles between brothers and cousins.  It made the people involved that much more real, and made the violence between them that much more sad.

So, if you get a chance to see this movie, I would recommend it.  It’s already available on DVD and for download from several sites, and you can see all the options on the film’s official website HERE, if you’re interested.


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