Thursday, 16 March 2017

Six Rounds (2017) (Review)


There's one moment in Marcus Flemmings' self-financed film Six Rounds in which the main character, Dan/Stally, turns to the camera and seemingly addresses the audience directly; "I can't lose that", he vows, repeatedly, preparing for a boxing match set against the backdrop of and amidst the fallout of the London 2011 Riots. That one moment, seconds before the beginning of 'Round XI' sees the culmination of a heady set of themes and a blistering atmosphere, stunningly realised in Flemming's debut feature-length, an exploration on racism, ageism, classism and dreams. Whether that line is referring to the intense atmosphere, audience concentration or the film's focus on its characters and themes, you'll be pleased to learn it doesn't lose it - it excels. Primarily drenched in monochrome and unwavering in its potency, Six Rounds is an assured debut piece that has so much on its mind but still manages to convey its musings with subtle, interpretable strokes.

As a debut feature-length, Six Rounds is a terrifically well-realised, thematically profound and focused piece of film-making, packed to the rafters with promise regarding the future of the man behind the camera. Marcus Flemmings, who writes, directs and produces the piece, is so confident in his vision that he abolishes any 'first-time' tellings early on, propelled to make a raw and natural piece of cinema that uses its backdrop without ever exploiting it; it never relies too heavily on these riots, acting more as a jumping-off point for this absorbing character study and internal monologue that follows. It is a universal and relatable piece, allowing Flemmings to attach a fuse to each of the themes presented here (and in every day society) that burns long enough to ignite further consideration from the audience, long after the credits have rolled and we return back to reality. In fact, this film is so grounded in reality, from the still, lingering shots that feel like an intrusion on these characters' every day lives and the natural, realistic performances delivered by Adam J Bernard in particular, that it really works to the film's advantage and viewer's immersion.

What is so terrific about Six Rounds is the film leaves a lot open for interpretation, subtly delivering powerful themes without ever forcing opinions and preaching to viewers; its skilful in that it provokes an emotional response without directly prescribing what exactly that response should be. Should we feel empowerment? Frustration? Anger? Despondency? That's entirely up to the individual, demonstrating the strength of the script and its on-screen execution. As an example, for me, the film is just as much about youth and age as it is about racism and class - ambitiously thought-provoking, it understands the importance of nuance, evident in one scene in which Dan, our lead, converses with an ill-advised, well-intentioned middle-class white lady that confirms stereotypes are still in place in society and handles the recupusion of them well. A compelling way Six Rounds operates is through the central idea of duelling, completing the boxing allegory tremendously; not only do two boxers fight it out in the ring, exchanging blow after blow (an image we continually return to), but our lead experiences a similar back-and-forth, torn as to whether he should return to his street, crime-inducing ways to help a friend or lead a higher-class existence with his lover he has now acclimatised to. It's an excellent idea and parallel enhanced through various character relationships and dynamics, most noticeable the two lovers at the heart of the film - an interracial couple who could not be further apart in terms of background and upbringing, skin colour, class and outlook. It's a masterful way to reflect the inner dichotomisation of our lead character and the moral dilemma at the centre of everything the piece attempts (and typically achieves with flying colours).

Effectively, the film's decision to deliver its message through monochrome visuals in as interesting one and almost immediately shatters the novelty of the set-up. Dropping us, very sparingly, into scenes of concentrated saturations and hues, this decision places a more intense magnification on the film's conversations, messages, tone and characters by fully absorbing viewers in the atmosphere of the piece, (working well from a thematic standpoint as well); these intermittent scenes of colour suggest a passion and vibrancy that enlivens these moments, helping to build on the lead and the romantic relationship that populates the piece. Episodically structured and restrictive in its runtime (clocking in at under 56 minutes), the film is benefitted due to its snappiness and pace, never dwelling on chapters excessively or over-indulging. Perhaps this leads to some of the film's minor flaws, including underdeveloped supporting characters and performances, as well as a slight monotony, although this does mean the film affords more time for our lead, superbly played by Bernard. Bernard delivers a strong performance, making the most of the film's powerful, emotional moments and nails the physicality of an athlete in the ring, including the anguish that comes with doing so, bringing the emotional baggage with him too. Bolstered further by a succession of quick cuts and precise shots - including one in which the camera slowly lingers on a meeting between friends in the corner of the room, as if the audience is trespassing on their personal space and conversation - the film contains a clear attention to detail that does not go amiss, even after just one viewing, and accentuated after a second. Six Rounds is an exhilarating watch, even for those (like myself) who wouldn't usually gravitate towards the genre or its content.

Six Rounds is a slick, absorbing social commentary, character study and internal monologue on a very personal, intimate level - yet its universal themes and timely release make it an incredibly relatable one too, whether that be because of your age, background, skin colour or inability and reluctancy to settle and decide in a society where everything seems to matter. It utilises its backdrop carefully without excess, all orchestrated by confident direction from Marcus Flemmings and anchored by a solid performance from Adam J Bernard at the centre. Its blistering atmosphere ensures intensity remains at fever-pitch throughout its 56 minute runtime, expertly handling themes and ideas profoundly and with adroitness and consideration. It defies conventions as to what it means to have a film with a person of colour at the centre, shattering expectations really efficiently. Marcus Flemmings has crafted this film as something genuinely exciting, effective and accomplished; it is worth making a note of his name as, even with a micro-budget on hand, he always impresses - this is only the beginning for Flemmings and he should be very proud with his work on Six Rounds.

(8/10)

Summary: Six Rounds is an incredibly accomplished piece of film-making by director, writer and producer Marcus Flemmings. Its decision to focus on its characters and themes is a smart one, striking a balance that ensures the film is open to interpretation and further consideration long after the credits have rolled.

Highlight: The intensity of the very opening moments is incredible, crafting a marvellous tone that continues throughout the rest of the film.

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