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  Knuckledust First Man Standing
Year: 2020
Director: James Kermack
Stars: Olivier Richters, Kate Dickie, Phil Davis, Amy Bailey, Moe Dunford, Gethin Anthony, Jaime Winstone, Alex Ferns, Yolanda Lynes, Guillaume Delaunay, Camille Rowe, Sebastian Foucan, David Schaal, Christy O'Donnell, James Kermack, Chris Patrick-Simpson
Genre: Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In this underground meeting, something terrible has occurred, a mass murder that appears to have resulted from some form of tournament of combat, leaving one man standing, known only as Hard Eight (Moe Dunford). Is he genuinely so skilled at fighting that he was able to murder all these men around him, or has something else occurred? Chief Inspector Katherine Keaton (Kate Dickie) has been brought in to find out what has gone on, and to that end she interviews her witness for he is the sole person who appears to know what really happened that night. But as her interrogation drags on, it becomes clear hardly anyone is on the level, and everyone has a secret or two they are trying to keep hidden for as long as possible...

When Quentin Tarantino arrived on the movie scene in the early-to-mid nineteen-nineties, he not only spawned a whole rash of copycat, ultraviolent, chatty thrillers and crime dramas, but he made it acceptable to bring the filmmakers' inspirations to the surface. Before him, anyone making such blatant reference to their influences was either indulging in parody or labelled a hack, someone who did not have enough ideas of their own so was appropriating others'. This could be regarded as part of the sampling culture born of hip-hop, but it did create a climate of film that we continued to live with decades later, well into the following century, as everyone was at it, from big names to smaller ones, though arguably the main trigger for these, Brian De Palma, was left somewhat in the cold.

Director-writer-star James Kermack certainly had the talent to make an impact on the crowded market of films in this vein, but considering he was confident enough to lift bits and pieces from various modern touchstones like John Wick or many a Guy Ritchie flick, not to mention an entire sequence nicked from Park Chan-wook's Oldboy (the corridor attack scene), you kind of wish he had applied that ability to something more original. Or if not original - because this far into pop culture it was difficult to bring up fresh notions of what you could do with genre pieces without going full on weirdo or experimental - then at least putting all the sections in an order that would be more interesting than a string of references, and how often had we seen a movie try to pull the rug from under us with a "you thought this but it's actually that, aah" wrap-up?

Kermack tried to sustain our interest by using Robert Rodriguez's trick of casting a whole bunch of folks, some more recognisable than others, then peppering their scenes throughout the running time to make sure he got value for money from actors who would not be needed for the entirety of the shoot. Though Knuckledust was not what you would call starry, there were a few familiar faces: Dickie an indie stalwart (though maybe best known for Game of Thrones), Phil Davis as a hitman, Jaime Winstone as a fellow inspector, Guillaume Delaunay (who may not be a well-kent name but certainly a face you would never forget) as a fighter, soap star Alex Ferns as the top man, and so on. They brought a cohesion to a film that constantly threatened to spiral out of control, so overcomplicated that you could be forgiven for being none the wiser after the solution to the mystery was presented, yet there was a surface engagement as it did look very slick, and a number of parts hit the mark from someone who had the ability but needed more discipline. Worth taking a chance on for Brit crime enthusiasts, nonetheless (and with animation, too). Music by Walter Mair.

[Knuckledust is released in the UK on digital by Samuel Goldwyn Films on 11th December 2020.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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