The powerful thing about Beast, the explosive new feature from Australian brothers Sam and Tom McKeith, is that the fight is rigged.
Oh, we’re not referring to the fight inside the ring, which father and son Rick and Jamie (Garret Dillahunt and Chad McKinney, both excellent), ensure that they will win. The fixed fight occurs in the way that the audience perceives these characters, in that within the first five minutes of the film, even before the opening credits, they have conspired to commit manslaughter.
Even though their intentions may not have been to kill the boxer in the ring, how can the McKeiths inspire sympathy from an audience that has just been forced to witness the brutal killing of an opponent? The closest parallel of which we could think would be battle, but there is a certain code of honour that would go into a battle, and that code would ensure not to rig the proceedings.
So the Beast of the film, the Leviathan with which the McKeiths must burden themselves, is how do they get an audience back into the corner of Jamie, (and to a slightly lesser extent, or Rick), without them feeling a sense of backlash?
The answer, of course, lies in the idea of redemption. This trope was extremely heavily present in a number of TIFF films this year. This may seem like an unnecessary statement, as which year does the festival not include the idea of sin and redemption?
But Beast is unique in that it’s one of two boxing films at the festival focused on the theme, (A Heavy Heart from Germany is the other), but the only one that tries to build up McKinney from the ground up outside of the ring.
The subsequent activity involves the McKeiths remaining locked in on Jamie, as he is present in every scene after the initial run-in. But interestingly, perhaps like in the ring, very little of the action takes place face-to-face. Much of the time, the action is filmed from the sides and especially from the back, asking us to consider Jamie from different angles.
This feeing becomes especially true when the action is revealed from McKinney’s rather wide back. The filmmakers unite to help make us an accomplice to the action. While we are on the level of Rick, we somehow almost become Jamie. We are complicit with his crime. Following him through the streets of Manila, the vey moment when the McKeiths make us sympathize with Jamie, he has captured the fight.