Battle of the Bone (2008)
A film review by Scott Wood
I was moderately aware of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland before “ Battle of the Bone”, not necessarily in detail, but I did have a meager understanding of the Protestant vs. Roman Catholic kerfuffle, and that it had been going for quite some time. I later learned that “The Troubles” was a proper name, and that it was an issue that regardless of being somewhat resolved, is still a forefront part of Northern Ireland 's social and political culture. Which makes sense when one considers that the crux of “The Troubles'” violence occurred in the mid-1970's, and that many of the people involved in the military conflict would still be alive today.
I could go on to tell you of all I've learned about this “Troubles” stuff since seeing this movie, but that would be pointless, because even after everything I've read, it still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. If you're Roman Catholic, you (violently) want Northern Ireland to be a separate country and you are (violently) opposed to Protestants, who are more passive-aggressive and cool with the idea of British rule. It is positively absurd sounding to me. Religion alone seems ludicrous; let alone tying it to feelings of contentious… I don't know. Pride, is it? I don't even know. Absurd.
But I'd be arrogant to believe that what I thought about this subject really mattered. It's not my country and it's not my culture, so my opinion on it is ignorant and invalid. I can take solace though with the fact that a film like “ Battle of the Bone” shares my view, despite its director (first-timer George Clark) being there to experience the “Troubles” firsthand. It is partly this grounding (the frustration and how he deals with it, not the ideology) that helps make his film so successful.
Zombies are often used metaphorically in cinema to represent sociological problems or looming threats. “BOTB” employs a zombie metaphor that is intentionally vague. It could refer to consumerism, racial intolerance, socialism, etc. Anything. It doesn't matter. What matters is that there are THINGS that are more important to the most recent generation of the Northern Irish, than arbitrary conflict that started long before they were born. “The Troubles” should no longer be relevant.
But like all great kung-fu/zombie films (what?), “ Battle of the Bone” works completely at face value, never relying on its ideology as a crutch. Whether or not you can connect with the undertones of Northern Irish social satire is irrelevant. It is a relentlessly kinetic and joyous picture; always running and usually running away, each character perpetually fighting for his/her life. This is a first effort for most everyone involved, so it is not as much about skill of the martial arts (or the choreography or the editing), as it is about the passion of filmmaking.
This is a film made by and starring people who obviously love what they are doing, and are having fun doing it. This love is so impossibly infectious that I felt while watching “BOTB,” that I had no other choice but to reflect it right back to the screen. Clark knows his kung-fu and being a connoisseur, he knows what it takes to be entertained by the genre. Excitement comes through in every frame and rampant spontaneity drives the film forward. From the stunts, to the violence, to a little scene where two friends play piano and sing a song in a conference room in a nuthouse, while unbeknownst to them zombies are ravaging the building. I wish I could describe every cute little touch and tangible threat, but we'd be here all day and nobody would want that. It manages to be wall-to-wall action without being boring for one moment, and somehow among the mayhem maintains an innocence and undeniable charm. I absolutely adored this movie.
There are people who like to protest when I am offended by certain films that obviously only exist to make money. I got hate mail from people for my negative reviews of “ Babel ” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and I listened people who thought that I was unfair to “Swimfan.” While it may be true that these pictures may be more technically sound than “BOTB,” I am offended by their lemming quality, their laziness, and their intention (respectively) and I refuse to applaud them. If Hollywood films consistently had even a third of the passion displayed in “ Battle of the Bone,” I'd have nothing to bitch about.
(Four and a half stars)
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There are 4 comments
November 13, 2008 - 07:21
I must disagree. Having passion doesn't make up for a terrible script. This film was the biggest waste of money I've ever spent. Avoid.
November 14, 2008 - 00:20
Subject: re: re:
I'm sorry you feel that way about "Battle of the Bone", John...
Personally I agree with Scott's comments, and found the film infectiously enjoyable. While I agree with you that the script won't be taking home any Irish Oscars, it served it's very simple purpose well. I think you may have had some slightly misled anticipations.
I can appreciate a good script as much as the next guy, however, from time to time, I'd rather see something that I can just sit down and enjoy, without thinking about it too much. "Battle of the Bone" is such a film. I'm sorry you were expecting the 'Citizen Kane' of Kung-Fu Zombie Movies, but if you can't appreciate a film like "Battle of the Bone" for what it is, you're missing out on a whole 'nother level of film enjoyment.
"Battle of the Bone" was entirely successful in achieving exactly what it set out to achieve, and in case you missed it... If you ever see a picture of the film's director, George Clarke, holding a little hand statue with an eye in the center of it... That's the "Audience Choice" award from this year's Freakshow Film Festival. So, in the eyes of the viewing public, they must be doing something right, don't you think?
And... I've included said image below...
November 15, 2008 - 09:36
Actually, having passion CAN make up for a terrible script (which is something that can NOT be attributed to "BOTB"), just as lack of passion or a disconnect with the source material can destroy a good one.
You didn't feel what was happening on screen, and that's fair. Instead of telling us off, however... What is your reasoning? Simply offering that the film was "terrible" is hardly valid commentary.
October 31, 2008 - 12:27
Subject: Thank you!!
Hey Scott, just wanted to say a huge thank you for such an amazing review. It also helps me see what I intially set out to do when the film is seen and discussed by fresh faces outside of NI. I only hope I can keep the same thing going with everything else we make! Spread the fever! Talk soon buddy!!
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