The Fight Machine (2022) Fantasia Review
The Fight Machine is the second of two very different movies based on novels by Craig Davidson that Raven Banner debuted at this year’s edition of Fantasia. This one is adapted from his novel The Fighter. The other is The Breach, based on the novel of the same name by his perhaps more familiar pseudonym Nick Cutter.
Paul Harris (Greg Hovanessian, The Mist, Deadly Inferno) comes from a rich family. He doesn’t have a care in the world until he mouths off to the wrong person and gets beaten bloody. Humiliated, he develops an obsession with bodybuilding and boxing, training under Lou (Michael Ironside, Dracula: The Original Living Vampire, The Convent)
Rob Tully (Dempsey Bryk, The Silence, Willow) on the other hand comes from a working-class family and was, according to his father Reuben (Greg Bryk, Trigger Point, Bloodthirsty), born to fight. He trains with him and his uncle Tommy (Noah Dalton Danby, Painkiller Jane, She Never Died) who sees stardom in his future.
Davidson, who co-wrote the script with The Fight Machine’s director Andrew Thomas Hunt (Spare Parts, Sweet Karma) sets up the familiar situation with the film’s two main characters coming from different classes and backgrounds. But he doesn’t stop there.
The responses of the two families are also totally different. Rob’s family isn’t just encouraging him, they’re actively pushing him towards a life in the ring. Paul’s parents Jack (Ted Atherton, Rabid, Trench 11) and Barbara (Natasha Henstridge, This Game’s Called Murder, Ravers) are horrified. The biggest difference however lies within the men themselves, While Rob has the talent and support his heart isn’t really in it. He does it for his father, not for himself. Paul however has the drive and the need to succeed.
Not being familiar with the novel it’s based on I was drawn to The Fight Machine by the promise of plenty of action set in the world of underground bare knuckles fighting. And we do get some good fight scenes centered around The Barn, starting with Tommy taking a match that doesn’t go as expected. Fight coordinator Wayne Wells (Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, The Dark) makes the brawls look painful while making them look cinematic enough to be exciting while avoiding the extremes many films take these things to.
But mostly The Fight Machine is a drama about masculinity and trying to find one’s own path in life regardless of the costs. But, as the characters’ paths cross and become entwined, it also asks if that is possible, or if some things are fated to happen. Some of the themes from Fight Club echo through the film as well, enough to say it was definitely an influence on Davidson.
While some of The Fight Machine’s plotting, especially in the final act, is a bit predictable the cast delivers the kind of performances that makes that largely irrelevant. While my first thought was that having the Bryks play father and son sounded like stunt casting it actually works quite well. For his part, Greg Hovanessian does a great job of portraying the toxic and obsessive side of masculinity. It’s also good to see Michael Ironside in a serious dramatic role again.
If you’re looking for a Canadian Bloodsport, which I have to admit I was, The Fight Machine isn’t the film you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a drama centered around underground fighting and with some bruising fight scenes, however, this should be just what you’re looking for.
The Fight Machine makes its debut on July 27th with a second showing on the 29th. I’m sure it will be turning up at more festivals after Fantasia, you can keep an eye on Raven Banner’s website and Facebook page for announcements of upcoming screenings and eventual distribution. And while you wait you can check out FilmTagger’s suggestions for similar films.