'Beast': TIFF Review

Courtesy of Boulevard Film
This underpowered, Philippines-set boxing drama is no thriller in Manila.

A crooked boxer fights back against his own tormented conscience in this debut feature from Australian writer-director duo Sam and Tom McKeith.

A young boxer faces a long, dark night of the soul after killing his opponent in this gritty debut from the Australian fraternal duo Sam and Tom McKeith. Shot on the streets of the Filipino capital Manila, Beast has a gripping premise but fails to deliver the required dramatic knockout, hobbled as it is by a limited budget, thin script and oddly listless pacing. World premiering in Toronto this week, it should prove punchy and gutsy enough for further festival bookings, but will struggle to last more than a few rounds in a heavyweight theatrical arena.

The film's trump card is its non-professional star Chad McKinney, a Filipino-American amateur boxer discovered by the McKeiths in a Manila gym. With his bulky frame and shiny bullet head, McKinney has a powerful physical presence that recalls both Vin Diesel and a young Marlon Brando. While clearly limited as an actor, his understated, quietly anguished performance is a good fit for this ultra-naturalistic drama.

McKinney plays Jaime, a small-time boxing hopeful in Manila who is managed by his dad, Rick (Garret Dillahunt), a weaselly American ex-pat with criminal connections. In the opening scene, Rick furtively fits Jaime with illegally modified gloves to finish off his Filipino challenger Pedro Ramirez. After scoring an easy victory that leaves Ramirez in the hospital, Jaime and Rick dump the gloves and head off to divide the spoils with the Australian gangster who paid them to fix the fight, Danny Walsh (co-writer and co-producer Will Jaymes).

But when Ramirez dies, Jaime suffers terrible remorse. He tracks down the dead fighter's widow, Divina (Angeli Bayani), and young son, Alvern (Whyzel Myo Indonto), in their shantytown slum to try and make financial amends, but Divina knows the fight was fixed, angrily rejecting Jaime's apology. Meanwhile, Danny's henchmen also are on her trail, ominously intent on keeping her silent by any means necessary. Faced with only bad choices, Jaime drags mother and child from their home and all three go on the run.

Shot almost entirely from Jaime's viewpoint, Beast has a raw cinema verite documentary feel, with long stretches of real-time walking and driving through Manila's shabby, impoverished back streets. There are teasing hints of Dardennes-style dirty realism here, as well as nods to Nicolas Winding Refn's lowlife crime thrillers, but without the biting social commentary of the former or the choking suspense of the latter.

Despite its killer setup and grimy urban setting, the plot feels light on danger. Casting is an issue here: menacing as a sleepy kitten, Jaymes makes an unconvincing villain, looking more like the pasty lead in an indie rom-com. A nightclub scene in which Jaime randomly hits on a girl before starting a violent brawl also feels jarringly out of character, like an ill-conceived afterthought designed to compensate for the lack of tension elsewhere. In fairness, McKinney and the McKeith brothers make a decent first with slender resources, and clearly show potential here. But Beast is all growl and no teeth.

Production Company: Boulevard Film

Cast: Chad McKinney, Garret Dillahunt, Angeli Bayani, Will Jaymes, Wyzel Myo Indonto

Directors: Tom McKeith, Sam McKeith

Screenwriters: Tom McKeith, Will Jaymes, Sam McKeith

Cinematographer: Michael Steel

Editor: Paul Murphy

Producers: Robert Coe, Will Jaymes, Bianca Balbuena

Sales company: Arclight Films

 

Rated 14A, 94 minutes

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