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Knuckle - Movie Review - 2011

Can A Family Feud Be Settled by Bare Knuckle Boxing?

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


For twelve years, filmmaker Ian Palmer has documented an ongoing series of bare knuckle boxing matches between feuding Irish Traveler families.

Actually, the Quinn McDonaghs, Joyces and Nevins families are related by blood, but they are also self-proclaimed mortal enemies and they stand ready to duke out their differences and establish the dominance of their lineage in the Travelers' traditional fighting venues -- open fields, parking lots, remote roads, abandoned buildings and other such places -- that fit their itinerant lifestyle.

Who Are The Travelers?

Travelers, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, are an ethnic or social minority group of people who live, for the most part, in Ireland, the UK and USA. Their lifestyle is itinerant, and they have their own culture, traditions and language (an English dialect that is difficult for others to understand). This film is set in Ireland, and had been shot in several Travelers' communities.

What's The Fighting About?

None of the men who are seen fighting in the film seem to be sure of what it was that actually started the feud, but all embrace and advocate for their clan's rage at the others. James Quinn McDonagh, Michael Quinn McDonagh and Paddy Quinn McDonagh are Palmer's lead characters, but most grown men and young boys shown in the film are always ready to raise fists and begin swinging to defend their family's name -- at least they avow hatred and yell threats of violence almost almost every time they face filmmaker Palmer's camera.

A Rare Perspective

One match after another, Palmer presents a rare perspective on Traveler lifestyle, one that is up close and personal. Traveler families are known to keep to themselves, but Palmer gains access to their homes, rides in their vans and stands within arms reach during their fights. By the way, the fights are illegal, and Palmer and his camera are turned away from one match because the fighters and referees don't want to be filmed.

We see that Traveler women -- the wives and mothers -- accept the fighting as a matter of course, prepare their men for battle and take pride when they win. The only reflective commentary on the tradition comes from a trio of unidentified older women who are seated on a sofa, and who comment that the fighting is senseless and really should be stopped.

Knuckle is a fascinating record of Traveler life and culture, assuming that this sort of inter-family feuding and bare knuckle fighting is not atypical. Palmer narrates the film, and there are many sequences in which the characters address the camera, but there is an authenticity and a raw verite quality to the film that is quite gripping.

Blood and Gore

Be warned, however, that the film is brutal and gory. There are lots of very bloody noses, and lacerations that require numerous stitches. And, in the end, the feud-based fighting does seem pointless. Nothing is settled by the fights, and the hatred continues.

Although the fighters downplay its importance, there is a substantial betting on the fights. Each fighter is required to put up a sum -- often amounting to tens of thousands of dollars -- that is to be taken by the victor. So, fighting is also a factor in the Travelers' community's finances, and that may be one reason why the feud continues to fuel the bare knuckle matches.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Knuckle
  • Director: Ian Palmer
  • US Theatrical Release Date: December 9, 2011 (limited)
  • Running Time: 97 mins.
  • Parental Guidance: Advisory for Parental Guidance for content
  • Location: Ireland, UK
  • Language: English, with English subtitles
  • Production Country: Ireland
  • Production Company: Revolver Entertainment

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