Although boxing biopic Risen wears its heart on its sleeve, a trait that may strike some as earnestness, it does not have a lack of ambition.

An affectionate portrayal of featherweight world champion Howard Winstone (Stuart Brennan), we follow his career from his days fighting in his homeland of the Welsh valleys through to his attempts to secure the world featherweight championship. His struggles with his young wife, Bennita (Grainne Joughin) and burgeoning family, run-ins with boxing promoters and problems with success are all covered in this fast-moving, almost choppy, narrative. However, what made him extra special was the injury to one of his hands in a horrific industrial accident, which made a career as a boxer nigh-impossible. This should be dramatic gold.

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Boxing films of recent years have been pretty mawkish affairs; from the rose-tinted self-importance of Cinderella Man through to the melodrama of Million Dollar Baby, we haven't exactly been spoilt. The best boxing movie of late has been The Hurricane, and very little of that took place in the ring, focusing instead on a gross miscarriage of justice and Denzel Washington's barnstorming central performance.

With its story, I was ultimately hoping for two things: great fight sequences and a moving triumph over adversity, cathartic crescendo. We do get a smattering of the first, even if scenes in the ring are soundtracked by the cliché of delicate, piano-based classical music. On the second, narrative point, success is less pronounced. The accident which made Winstone's story so special is played down and over quickly, as is focus on his early career before the injury. Director Jones instead tries to document the highs and lows of achieving a world title; this is fine but it belongs to a different movie, is perhaps a little lazy and is, fundamentally, ignoring the specialness of the story.

There is some ambition here, however. Firstly, to make such a film (which, almost by its very nature, has to include re-enactments of fights, and vast period detail) with an obviously limited budget is admirable. Although Jones doesn't always pull it off, he does capture a certain feel and atmosphere of yesteryear which is effective. Jones also attempts to explore Winstone's home life; although psychological insight is lacking, he manages to find integral places in his story for women, Winstone's friends and his parents, creating a pretty expansive context.

Ultimately, however, with its lack of character insight and misdirected lack of focus, Risen is never going to be the knock out its central character once was. Jones is not going to bring in anyone new to the sport or Winstone with his poor storytelling, and with its shallow look at events and characters it's not going to teach fans anything new or enlightening.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2011
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Biopic of featherweight boxing world champion Howard Winstone.
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Director: Neil Jones

Writer: Stuart Brennan, Neil Jones

Starring: Stuart Brennan, John Noble, Erik Morales, Shane Richie, Grainne Joughlin

Year: 2010

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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