Review: Brutal 'Donnybrook' for sadists only

Jamie Bell stars in nasty film that desperately wants to be taken seriously

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Jamie Bell, center, in "Donnybrook."

A relentlessly violent exercise in cinematic ugliness, "Donnybrook" wallows in vile, dead-end desperation, convinced it's taking on bigger subject matter than it really is. 

It's not. This fake-deep trip to scumtown is exploitative trash and deserves to be set out by the curb. 

A crazy-eyed Jamie Bell plays Jarhead Earl, an ex-Marine in a hopeless Midwestern town who's making his way toward Donnybrook, a bare knuckles steel cage fight club that somehow manages a $100,000 purse.

Earl is what passes for a good guy in this backwards tale, which manages to make "Out of the Furnace" look like "27 Dresses." Even when Earl punches out a cop and steals his ride, we're supposed to identify with him as the hero of this tale. 

In his defense, the heel is way worse. That role goes to Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo), an impossibly jacked meth dealer who very casually murders cops, family members, or anyone who looks at him sideways. He smacks around his sister, Delia (Margaret Qualley), and their psychotically abusive relationship borders on the incestuous. 

Cool stuff so far, but director Tim Sutton, adapting Frank Bill's novel, is only getting started. "Donnybrook" is filmed in drab gray tones and set to a pretentious operatic score, an attempt to layer the film with unearned meaning. Rather, it exposes just how empty it really is.

"Donnybrook" wants to be about the forgotten class doing what it can to scrape by, a commentary on the dark and growing underbelly of America. But there are more poignant life lessons to be learned in a UFC fight. There are no winners here, only losers. 



Rated R: for disturbing violent and sexual content, drug use, language, and some graphic nudity

Running time: 101 minutes