Having served ten years in prison for brutally beating a young, black man, Donnie Rose (Rossif Sutherland) returns home to the racially-charged community of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he faces awkward reunions with his brother Keith (Greg Bryk), sister-in-law Emma (My Little Eye’s Laura Regan), and shady Uncle Charlie (Stephen McHattie). The victim, Charles Carver (K.C. Collins), is now mentally handicapped. His father, George (Danny Glover) confronts Donnie at a party but, despite Keith’s taunts, reconsiders pulling a gun and walks away. However, local boxing champ Ossie Paris (Flex Alexander) offers the black community payback, challenging Donnie to a fight in return for a hefty sum. In need of money, and pressured by Charlie, Donnie accepts even though he is certain to lose. His one chance for survival lies with the man who reluctantly steps forward to train him… George Carver.
Simple humanity appears to be George’s sole motivation for helping Donnie. While some viewers may struggle with the premise of a man training the reformed thug who crippled his son, director/co-writer Clement Virgo does not neglect the moral complexities behind such altruism and crafts a compelling, intelligent drama. Tensions flare during the build-up to the fight, with violence enacted and endured by both the blue collar and black communities, while Donnie grapples with his wayward friends and family, George wrestles with his conscience, and his wife Ruth (Tonya Lee Williams) struggles with her need for vengeance. Virgo and co-screenwriter Chaz Thorne wisely avoid putting George and his wife on resolutely opposite ends. For while there is friction between them, there is also love, as when George breaks in tears of self-disgust and an uncomprehending, but affected Ruth hugs him silently (neatly echoed in a later scene where Donnie sheds conflicted tears while locked in Emma’s compassionate embrace).
Less successful is the handling of Donnie’s homosexuality. Early on he has a sexual liaison with a cellmate and is shown struggling to readjust to the womanizing, homophobic ways of Keith and friends, yet this supposedly crucial aspect of his personality (He beat Charles for calling him a “fag”) is swiftly pushed aside. Virgo might see it as illustrating the fluidity of sexual identity, but it seems more like window dressing once Donnie enters into a “normal”, heterosexual relationship with Emma. The final fight sequence isn’t as gruelling as one would expect and a supporting character’s sudden intervention flirts with melodrama, but the resolution makes its point well and unexpectedly leaves all parties satisfied. It also skewers the once-sacred notion that boxing offers any solution to racial/social problems, as Charles’ suffering is exploited at first and eventually ignored by a crowd baying for blood.