Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Film review: Two Fists One Heart

Director: Shawn Seet
Cast: Daniel Amalm, Ennio Fantastichini, Jessica Marais, Rai Fazio
Country: Australia

“I treated you like my own son” – Joe Argo
“Come on Joe, you didn’t treat me that bad” – Nico

Real men don’t do weakness: they don’t talk about feelings, they don’t moisturise and they certainly don’t cry at movies. We know that the old adages die hard, and even as they are slowly worn away others remain along with the male ego; stubborn as an old mule, like father like son.

In Two Fists One Heart we meet Anthony Argo (Daniel Amalm), a young up-and-coming amateur boxing champion. Anthony’s life is filled with violence inside and outside the ring thanks to his job as a bouncer and friend’s troublemaking. But mostly Anthony is just another kid in a man’s body who doesn’t quite know what he wants from life besides his father’s approval.

An ex-boxer from Sicily, Joe Argo (Ennio Fantastichini) has been coaching his son since he was a small boy and runs a backyard gym where other local youths train. Anthony is Joe’s pride, though it seems less so as a son and rather as a means through which he lives his own failed dreams of success in the ring. When Anthony becomes distracted by a new girl in his life, rebelling against his father’s plans, Joe throws his son out of home and adopts another boxer as his protégé.

There’s not much in the way of originality in Two Fists, as a drama it is predictable and as a sports movie it's inevitable. There is, however, a mature confidence in the storytelling accompanied by engaging performances and a film that is really quite compelling.

Amalm employs some considerable charm in keeping Anthony on the right side of likeable and enjoys genuinely endearing moments with girlfriend Kate (Jessica Marais) in-between bouts of fisticuffs with local louts and larrikins, never losing touch of his frustration amidst an ever-present undercurrent of tension. A word of credit is due Jessica Marais for a strong female performance in a movie otherwise dominated by fistfuls of machismo.

It is, meanwhile, Fantastichini who really steals the show – the Italian actor commanding the screen with resolute authority, never wavering as the family patriarch who demands absolute commitment from his son with no thought to the world outside of his training regime. Joe’s own history is etched quite literally on his body like ring patterns on an ancient tree: a history that drives his actions and clouds his judgement.

And so at the heart of Two Fists remains this relationship between a father and his son, grounded in realism by Rai Fazio’s autobiographical script in which he has crafted an emotionally satisfying story alongside a sporting cliché you can cheer for. Fazio himself gets to star in the film as Nico, the Sicilian ex-con who becomes Joe’s surrogate son before betraying him for riches and glamour offered by a hand-wringing local promoter.

Director Shawn Seet and cinematographer Hugh Miller (who replicates elements of his Three Blind Mice lens) show real flare in their compositions, capturing the script's sense of realism whilst finding moments of romance in the city landscape and mystique in the backyard gym. Creative camera angles, stolen reflections and gorgeous sunsets paint a film that is beautiful to look at and consistently compliments the storytelling within each frame.

It is in this final stretch Two Fists stumbles as it rushes toward the final showdown, albeit in a forgivable fashion. The time-honoured training montage stirs a little excitement, though mostly lands with the dull thud of a telegraphed right hook. Fazio’s Nico becomes little more than another one-dimensional man-to-beat metaphor of overcoming personal adversity a la Ivan Draco or Clubber Lang. The film also struggles to find a conclusion to contemplations of violence, justified or otherwise, instead choosing to tie them off a little too conveniently.

That said amidst the excellent fight sequences, climaxing with Nico and Anthony’s big title fight, the emotional payoffs are all delivered on cue and are just as satisfying. Two Fists One Heart isn’t exactly a film with a wealth of depth to reach into, but it is an honest film. Love, violence, betrayal, sport, and family: all form key ingredients for a hearty serving of quality drama. It might not be particularly original, but sometimes it’s just the way they tell them.

Two Fists One Heart is released in Australia nationwide 19 March, 2009.