There’s a fine line between the absurd and the transcendent, and Tim Sutton’s Donnybrook crosses it with ludicrous abandon. Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell) is a former Marine with a drug addict wife and two adorable kids who is determined to make his way to the Donnybrook, an annual, winner-take-all, bare knuckle death-match melee (honestly, the rules are never really established here). Earl is being tracked by Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo), a local drug lord of sorts who, along with his sister, Delia (Margaret Qualley), murders with almost gleeful recklessness. It’s also strongly implied that these two are in some sort of incestuous relationship, which is both gross and completely in keeping with the scuzzy milieu that Sutton conjures. And there’s a cop named Whalen (the always welcome James Badge Dale), who’s got issues of his own. After much portentous navel gazing, Angus and Earl finally go head-to-head at the Donnybrook.
That’s really it for this dour film — one that’s so forcefully violent and despairing that one can’t help but be impressed by how committed it is to its own misanthropy. It’s a failure, certainly, but it’s an interesting one, demonstrating how easily an attempt at deconstructing masculine codes of honor can simply turn into a romanticized version of the same. The film begins with an oblique monologue from an old, weathered ferryman (get it, he’s like Charon and they are crossing the river Styx to Hades, bro); Sutton has this character start spewing bromides about “working with your hands” and “fighting for what’s yours” and shit like that. It’s real MAGA stuff, and while the rest of the film demonstrates the kind of violent physical and mental toll this philosophy can take on a person, it also kind of believes in its value too. Donnybrook wants to be a portrait of How We Live Now, but it is so patently absurd, so over-the-top, that it drowns in pseudo-poetic ruminations, groping for political relevance.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 2.