From Prizefighter (2022)

Film Review – Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher (2022)

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It is clear that there is something about Jem Belcher, the youngest ever boxing world champion, and his story that holds a special place in Matt Hookings’ heart. Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher was not only written and produced by Hookings, he also plays the man himself.

Directed by Daniel Graham, the film was originally delayed due to financial restraints. Production also had to be moved from Wales to Lithuania when Creative Wales chose not to help fund the project. Unfortunately this troubled production history is evident in the film, a real shame when Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher is obviously a labour of love.

From the first frame, there is something off about Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher. There is no doubt that Belcher is a figure of note who should be remembered in the world of pugilism. However, perhaps there is a reason that the majority of audiences may not have heard of him, because there is little about this biopic that is riveting. There are elements of the classic underdog story and elements of a story of self-redemption but neither of these elements are presented in a way that engages the audience. The result is that proceedings play out in a rather formulaic and underplayed manner – there is no inspirational speech or moment that rallies the audience to Belcher’s side.

Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher also really suffers visually. It is completely over-saturated and makes use of a blurred effect throughout, reminiscent of the effect produced by the ‘Canon dream lens.’ As such most of the film looks like some kind of fever dream which simply does not marry with the story being told. This also means that tonally the film feels really odd. This is supposed to be a story told in the Georgian era about a bloody and violent sport and yet it looks garishly bright and colourful.

The cast is probably the best thing about Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher. Many audiences will be drawn to the film by the casting of Russell Crowe and his short appearance in it does provide some interest, albeit it gruff and grizzly interest. Ray Winstone and Matt Hookings do work well together in their scenes but sadly there is no stand out performance.

It is difficult to know who this film will ultimately appeal to. At the very least, a biopic should present an interesting story about its subject or introduce a fascinating person to those previously unfamiliar with them. Jem Belcher may have been an incredible person who did incredible things but unfortunately this film is on the ropes long before any knockout punches can be delivered.

★★


Sports, Drama | UK, 2022 | 15 | Prime Video | 22nd July 2022 | Signature Entertainment | Dir. Matt Hookings | Russell Crowe, Matt Hookings, Ray Winstone, Jodhi May, Martin Csokas, Julian Glover

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