Knuckledust (Review) In for a penny, in for a pound…



Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to Writer/Director, James Kermack for allowing me access to an online screener of his latest feature length film, “Knuckledust”. Knuckledust is an Action/Crime film set in the world of illegal underground fighting. A special police task force led by Redmond (played by Jaime Winstone), are sent by their Chief Inspector (Kate Dickie of HBO’s “Game Of Thrones”) to raid Club Knuckledust where they discover countless dead bodies of previous fighters. With little information to go on, it leads to an impromptu investigation of a mysterious survivor who goes by the name “Hard Eight” (Moe Dunford), and secrets ultimately come to the surface as seemingly widespread corruption takes hold and an array of players fates cross paths over the course of a night. The film also stars Amy Bailey, Gethin Anthony, James Kermack, Camille Rowe, and Chris-Patrick Simpson.

I was first introduced to James back in 2016 when I reviewed his effective and entertaining little seafaring short film “Bucking Hell” *see review* I didn’t realize he was busy now shooting feature films (this being his second). In a nutshell, Knuckledust is an independently made Action/Crime flick that can be somewhat likened to films such as “Smokin Aces” or “Locked Down”. Whilst it never reaches the heights of the aforementioned, it showcases some polish in its technical craft, as well as providing a solid slice of entertainment for fans of criminal underworld films. The film opens with creative animated illustrations that are complemented with some glowing neon credit titles, I dug those. This is DP, Pat Aldinger’s first cinematography credit on a feature length film but he handles the material with ample competency. The quality of footage is consistent and further supported by a colorful lighting palette that strongly fixates on greens, blues, and reds. Overall, the fight choreography itself is respectable without necessarily eclipsing what we’ve come to mostly expect from low-budget action films. Though I can single out a great wide shot setup and scene in a hallway that sees Hard Eight fight a bunch of gimps sporting leather masks and suits. It’s a scene reminiscent of something from Chan-wook Park’s “Oldboy”.

Walter Mair’s score sets off with some punchy low-fi synth notes underpinning the opening frames which track Serena, a woman of power, as she makes her way through an interestingly lit room to an elevator that ultimately takes her into the heart of the fight den. Other highlights in the music are some of the choices for Southern American style rock/blues which were fitting given the films expected tone. As far as Kermack’s writing is concerned, it’s a little more applaudable once events come full circle. Initially it feels like there are simply too many characters in this world, as is evident with the way in which James feels the need to introduce them (each with names presented across the screen) – it’s yet another similarity to the previously mentioned “Smokin Aces” and countless other films. The acting is serviceable and there are a few good laughs to be had with dry comedic gags throughout the film. Early banter between two hitmen comes to mind. Those behind the conception of the pair of animated sequences deserve plenty of credit – especially the section in the second act which simultaneously serves as a nice piece of exposition. I thoroughly enjoyed the fast start and the ending comes together in a relatively satisfying way, even if you are left with some questions.

As I said, Knuckledust starts with guns-a-blazing (without them actually A’ blazing if you get what I mean) in the sense that you immediately know what type of film you’re in for and it doesn’t take long to get to the crux of our protagonists plight. Unfortunately, I felt the middle act dragged considerably and it became a bit laborious trying to decipher who the narrative was really centering on. My interest in the story waned somewhat until the latter part of the third act. Comedy in these types of films is a tough balancing act, and there are chunks of it that didn’t quite land. There’s a couple of “your mother” jokes out of left-field, and some of Maccready’s dialogue (as played by Kermack himself) felt as though it lacked context. Redmond is depicted as a senior officer calling the shots during the opening raid. She’s certainly Maccready’s superior, yet at the station he appears to be the one giving her orders. Dave Bibby’s character of “Hooper” was another problematic addition. It’s almost as if James was partially going the Verbal route (out of The Usual Suspects) but it didn’t feel earned. Hooper would’ve never gotten as well ingratiated as he does, purely due to the severe manner in which he carries himself. Everything is amped up to maximum. The hacking sequence where he’s all but having a fit was extremely clunky and comically cringeworthy. A little more attention to detail around the makeup fx and blood and gore wouldn’t have gone astray either, and some of the music choices for the fight sequences felt amiss.

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In spite of its shortcomings, and there are a few, Knuckledust is still a solid little Action/Thriller coming at us from the UK. It contains dazzling aesthetics, professional technical delivery, and a strategic use of animation weaved into the storytelling. There can be no denying that it’s lacking in the originality department though, and the core narrative feels as though it veers off track on occasion over the course of the 100 minute runtime. Not all the humor works, nor are certain characters completely credible, but that notwithstanding, Knuckledust serves its purpose as an independent slice of pulpy action that fans of the genre are bound to get something out of. The film is now available on various streaming platforms and you can also feel free to check out the official trailer below!

Knuckledust – 5.5/10