Strength And Honour

2007, Movie, NR, 104 mins


An uncharacteristically understated performance from tough-guy Michael Madsen and an entertainingly over-the-top turn by Vinnie Jones elevate this otherwise formulaic melodrama about a boxer who reluctantly enters the ring one last time to save his son's life.

Seven years after accidentally killing his brother-in-law in a practice sparring match, Irish boxer Sean Kelleher (Madsen) renews his promise to his dying wife, Shannon (Norma Sheahan), that he'll take good care of their son, Michael (Luke Whelton) and never, and never step back into the ring. It'll be a tough promise to keep. Deeply in debt after Shannon's death and too grief-stricken to return to his job as a mechanic, Sean gets another piece of devastating news: Young Michael is suffering from a congenital heart defect and probably won't live another 18 months. Michael's doctor tells him that an American colleague may be able to save Michael's life with a radical new surgery, but the procedure isn't officially available in Ireland, so Sean will have to admit his son to a private U.S. hospital and foot most of the $300,000 bill himself. To make matters even worse, Sean learns that his wife's policy has been voided by the insurance company on a technicality regarding her treatment, and the bank is about to foreclose on his house. Despondent, Sean returns to the St. Mary's Catholic Young Men's Society Hall where, under the eye of his coach, Denis O'Leary (Richard Chamberlain), he learned to box. Sean befriends young, aspiring pugilist Chaser McGrath (Michael Rawley), who lives with his mother, Mammy (the formidable Gail Fitzpatrick), in a caravan campsite with their fellow Travellers, the traditionally itinerant — and very tight-knit — Irish social group. Chaser tells Sean about the Pit, a bare-knuckled fight with only two rules — no hitting below the belt, no kicking — and a 250,000-euro purse. But the annual bout is traditionally closed to non-Traveller "buffers" — those "settled" outsiders — and even if Sean manages to scrape together the $10,000 entry fee and Mammy's friend Papa Boss (Patrick Bergin) convinces his fellow Travellers' Bosses to allow Sean to compete, he'll have to inevitably fight the current Pit champ, Seamus "Smasher" O'Driscoll, the psychotic "King of the Travellers," who's already killed two men in the ring and beaten the raps on both. To save Michael's life, Sean will soon have to risk his own.

First-time writer-director Mark Mahon lingers too long on certain scenes — Sean's emotional farewell to his home feels padded to accommodate the length of Natasha Bedingfield's "Wild Horses" — but for the most part the film moves along at a nice clip and provides an interesting glimpse inside the endlessly fascinating world of the Travellers. No one's likely to mistake it for RAGING BULL, but it's not bad. Not bad at all. leave a comment --Cathy Suhocki

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Strength And Honour
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