Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Boxer is homeless, sleeping rough, we eventually discover, a semblance of home carved in an abandoned housing estate. It opens with him shadowboxing, the wind outside buffeting the boards on the window. There's a sleeping bag, a photograph, huffing and puffing and swings and jabs. Meditatively bandages are wound and unwound on the hands, a broken nose and puffy eyes, the off-screen rattle of cupboards full of bottles, the ravages of abject poverty, loneliness.

It is a post-industrial landscape that The Boxer wanders through. Not knowledge workers, outsourcing, a service-driven economy; the grim skeletons of heavy machinery, concrete dinosaurs bleeding moss and spray-paint. A pebble-dashed high street that could be any Scottish satellite town, built to house workers for coal, steel or ship and subsequently brutalised by Sixties architecture and then left to fester. Loach's territory, Mullan's, Meadows' too. Thatcher's North, and all that, but no better stewarded by the Labour candidates returned unceasingly. Past politics now, really, past salvation - a ruin. So too the boxer.

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Yet Andrew Cumming's film has something in mind for him. Lewis Howden brings a lumbering intensity to this shell of a man. Drawn to a gymnasium in his torn coat and stained hoodie, he retreats from noise and what feels like warmth. On the anonymous shopping precinct that could be anywhere in Scotland that's served only by A roads, he loiters in a doorway, a spattering of coins accumulating on the ground. A backstreet taken, then suddenly noise - the skittishness of a fox - something displaced, urban yet alien, startled to feral.

Not inhuman, though - a threat to another sees him step into the fray, take a stand however small. It's Helen McAlpine that he rescues, after a fashion, with his halting voice. That act of kindness, a night (or some of it) spent in a hospital is not without its costs. More follows, but it's of a style, of a pattern. It's not clear if it's cliché or just inevitability.

This is a debut feature, and while strong in places it doesn't quite gel. Perhaps it's the subject matter; the squared circle, ex-urban deprivation and isolation are all well travelled paths. Garry Torrance's cinematography is good, but the battered set of Howden's face, the streets of Cowdenbeath and the abandoned industralia do a lot of the work for him. David Webster's music is archetypal sad piano, another familiarity among familiarities.

The ending breaks a little from routine, in structure if not in tone. What saves it is subtlety - over the credits Cumming shows archive footage, steam trains carrying coal, coronation picnics, amateur boxing. It invites inference, implication instead of exposition. It's that deftness that prevents it from lumbering into tedium, rote. Shown at Glasgow Short Film Festival 2011 as part of Competition 8, Eye To Eye, it paints The Boxer in broad strokes, but good ones - an abandoned hearth in a boarded house, a tattered sleeping bag, a photograph of a schoolgirl. It could be anyone, it could be the girl, but it's someone, someone worth fighting for. Unfortunately for the boxer, it's not quite punching its weight.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2011
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A lonely man in a run-down corner of Scotland finds his life transformed after he witnesses a violent attack.
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Director: Andrew Cumming

Starring: Lewis Howden, Helen McAlpine

Year: 2010

Runtime: 17 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2011

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