Dir: John Irvin. UK. 2000. 98 mins.
Prod co: Wisecroft. Co-prods: Visionview. Domestic dist: Momentum Pictures. Int'l sales: IAC Films (44) 20 75 92 16 20. Exec prods: Laura and Barry Townsley. Prod: Geoff Reeve. Scr: Scott Cherry. DoP: Mike Molloy. Prod des: Austen Spriggs. Ed: Ian Crafford. Music: Paul Grabowsky. Main cast: Michael Caine, Martin Landau, Andy Serkis, Frances Barber, Claire Rushbrook, Matthew Marsden.
This thriller set in London's boxing underworld isn't exactly a knock-out, but scores some points from the iconic presence of Caine, whose career is on the upturn after his second Oscar for The Cider House Rules. He sinks his teeth into a role which was apparently written for him but the film, flimsy in other departments, doesn't have the dash to stand out from the current crowd of British gangster pictures and will probably fare best on the video shelves.
Caine plays Billy "Shiner" Simpson, a sleazy East End boxing impresario who is determined to live out his thwarted dreams by pushing his son, Golden Boy (Marsden), into competing for a world title and fat purse. But Golden Boy - already wracked by self-doubt - is knocked out after two rounds and shot dead soon thereafter. Convinced of foul play behind the tragedy and unable to accept that the great moment his life has been leading up to will never arrive, Shiner flails out at everyone around him: his professional associates, his underworld cronies and even his two daughters (Barber and Rushbrook), ultimately consuming himself in his irrational quest for revenge.
Flatly directed by Irvin, the film nonetheless manages to create a strong sense of atmosphere in the early scenes leading up to the fight, which Shiner does everything this side of legality to rig in Golden Boy's favour. But the relationship between father and son hasn't developed sufficiently to lend much emotional force to Shiner's bereavement and the subsequent plotting, as he ricochets from suspect to suspect, becomes increasingly confusing.
Essentially it's a star vehicle for Caine, who constantly commands the screen (though one feels that the role does not greatly stretch his talents); other key characters remain pallid, notably Marsden as the tarnished boy wonder and Landau as a rival American boxing promoter.