Strength and Honour (2007)


Strength and Honour (2007)- * * *

Directed: Mark Mahon

Starring: Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones, Luke Whelton, Richard Chamberlain, and Patrick Bergin

Sean Kelleher (Madsen) used to be 'The Best' - in this case, the best boxer in County Cork, Ireland. When he accidentally kills a man in the ring, he gives up punching forever. He even promises his young son Michael (Whelton) he'll never box again. Things change drastically when it turns out that Michael has a rare heart condition that only a Los Angeles doctor and $300,000 will cure. Going back to what he knows, Sean is aware that a local no rules bareknuckle fighting tournament called the Puck could be the answer to his money woes.

So, because he's been out of the game for so long, he goes back to his old trainer, O'Leary (Chamberlain). But the current champion of the Puck is a dangerously violent and unstable lunatic named Smasher O'Driscoll (Jones). Apparently, you don't just win the Puck - if you win, you are the Puck. You are also crowned King of the Travellers. Someone with a stable house (i.e. not a trailer) is not even allowed to enter the Puck. You have to be a Traveller, which appears to our American eyes to be a sort of Irish Gypsy. Leader of these people, Papa Boss (Bergin), helps Sean and his supporters in their mission. Now Sean is fighting for a cause. Not because he just enjoys hitting people, like Smasher, but because his son's life is on the line. To defeat Smasher and win/become the Puck, and become King of the Travellers, he's going to need Strength - but does he have the Honour?

Strength and Honour is an earnest Irish drama that also happens to be a Punchfighter. That might account for the divided opinion that seems to follow the film. Lovers of earnest Irish dramas probably aren't going to watch it (or will never have heard of it), but the sort of viewer that enjoys the simple-minded spectacle of shirtless men endlessly punching each other likely won't warm to the more dramatic aspects.

The familiar story trajectory we've seen many times before, rather than grating on the viewer with cliches, feels more comfortable this time around, kind of like coming home. While the Puck is Punchfighting through and through, the rabid crowds don't clutch cash in their hands. That's because these working-class people probably don't have much cash to spare, but also because the Puck is not about money. It's about tradition, and, yes, Strength and Honour.

We're spelling "Honour" like that because this film never received a U.S. release, so American distributors never got the chance to change it to the U-less spelling. In any case, What makes all the difference is that Madsen really seems to care about the proceedings. Like Marlon Brando or Burt Reynolds, Madsen is an actor that, if he feels the material is not worth caring about, he openly just doesn't. But, thankfully, here he does. DTV fans may just want to tune in for the final fight between Vinnie Jones and Michael Madsen, a confrontation not seen before or since (as of this writing).

But there's a lot more going on here to sink your teeth into. Patrick Bergin and Richard Chamberlain of all people round out the more well-known names in the cast. Both are quite welcome and help the film to rise above its low-budget station. Better-than-average outdoor cinematography (the indoor scenes are a bit dark) also helps a lot, and even in the more downtrodden places, the viewer gets a glimpse of the beauty of Ireland. The acting is also top-shelf and there's plenty of grit to go around.

Now, the last time we saw an Irish film about someone who trains for a fighting tournament - a sort of Irish Kumite, if you will - it was Fatal Deviation (1998). Besides the plot similarities, these two outings could not be more different. S&H is somber and downbeat. FD is silly and ridiculous. If you feel like comparing and contrasting, a double feature would probably be an interesting night's entertainment.

To quote Imdb user themoviehunter-1: "Strength and Honor is a story of hope and personal triumph, and in this world filled with Matrix-wannabees, B-level comedy full of toilet humor, and 300 million dollar glitz, it's refreshing to find a film with no gratuitous sex, gore, or profanity. This film has such a strong and simple theme, you won't have a feeling of apprehension taking your 13 year-old daughter to see it (and she'll probably hug you on the way out of the theater). To put it in a single phrase, this movie is what good film-making is all about."

While Strength and Honour may be serious-minded, we still get a flamboyant psycho as only Vinnie Jones can do it, regarding the Smasher character. There's much else to recommend here, so we won't mention everything, but we will definitely give Strength and Honour a strong recommendation.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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