Connect with us
'Knuckle City' gives the world we live in a few jabs before putting an entire system of corruption and limitations on blast.

Film

TIFF 2019: ‘Knuckle City’ Refuses to Hold Back Punches

‘Knuckle City’ gives the world we live in a few jabs before putting an entire system of corruption and limitations on blast.

Set in Mdantsane, South Africa, Knuckle City is a gritty look at the boxing world — of those who fight in it, and those who invest in it. Anchored by a fantastic lead performance by Bongile Mantsai, as well as an impressive supporting cast, Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s latest film brings an intense heartache to its slick exploration of family in a poverty-stricken village. Following a boxer who never got his shot at being a champion because his brother’s life of crime put him in a neverending series of unfortunate events, Qubeka digs deeper into a world thrown to the wolves, where the carcasses of dreams are the most nourishing to devour.

Beginning in 1994 and subsequently cutting back and forth between then and the present day, Knuckle City immediately highlights the relationship — or lack thereof — between Dudu (Mantsai), Duke (Thembekile Komani), and their boxing champion father, Art (Zolisa Xaluva). The film also shines a light on the importance placed on being a boxer in Mdantsane; it’s not just a job — it’s almost the equivalent of being a God, if you can maneuver through the business model in place and take the championship title. That means taking a hit when you need to take a hit, and learning quickly that just because you’re a good boxer doesn’t necessarily mean you can be champion. While that sounds terrible, it isn’t far off from other business models in place where the sport can often be just as much about entertainment as it is about pure skill.

That rule of falling into place when necessary is ultimately what keeps Duke and Dudu thematically tied to each other. While Dudu comes off as the responsible brother, he is also full of himself in much the same way that Duke is after being let out of prison. However, the difference is that Duke isn’t seen as much of a letdown by his peers and family; in this world and any other, success is not measured by your morals or your dreams — it’s measured by your wealth and connections. That wealth stems from having ambition, but also knowing its ceiling. Knuckle City lands its gut punch because it portrays a life where the career path to being successful only comes from indulging in criminal activities and immoral behaviour.

It’s the grittiness with which the film is shot, as well as some of the big moments, that accentuate a world gone to Hell. That world is all the more heartbreaking to witness when taking into account that it’s not an outlier; plenty of people live in similar circumstances where they are pushed into crime to make ends meet. Knuckle City often meanders and touches on the same touchstones throughout, but further pushing the notion that some people simply don’t get a shot at being great on their own terms. However, this is tediously pointed out in far-too-obvious ways, and by the end of the film it’s completely driven into the ground. That being said, perhaps Qubeka brings the pain to the forefront so obviously because it’s a point worth bringing to mind whenever possible. 

Knuckle City is a distinct movie, even if it also treads similar narrative tropes that are often associated with this kind of story. The broad strokes play out in a typical fashion, but are distinguished because of how violently or strikingly they are presented. Arguments escalate and fights explode with little provocation needed, and that intensity continues inside and outside the ring. The boxing itself is shot very well, and carries a huge momentum to it, but also doesn’t detract from a main narrative which takes place outside those four corners. An intimate movie, Knuckle City gives the world we live in a few jabs before putting an entire system of corruption and limitations on blast. It’s a necessary blow that doesn’t quite land the knockout, but doesn’t sidestep around the issues at hand.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

Written By

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Victoria, British Columbia. Given a pint, he will talk for days about action films, video games, and the works of John Carpenter.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Facebook

Trending

Apple 1984 Super Bowl Ad Apple 1984 Super Bowl Ad

A Look Back At The Most Famous Super Bowl Commercial 1984 Directed by Ridley Scott

TV

Greatest-Super-Bowl-Commercials-of-All-Time Greatest-Super-Bowl-Commercials-of-All-Time

A History of The Greatest Super Bowl Commercials of All Time

TV

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches of All time Greatest Royal Rumble Matches of All time

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches

Wrestling

The Best Romantic Comedies The Best Romantic Comedies

Happy Valentine’s Day: Here are the 50 Best Romantic Comedies

Film

best Super Bowl halftime shows in history best Super Bowl halftime shows in history

The 15 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows in History 

TV

Greatest Romantic Comedies Greatest Romantic Comedies

Happy Valentine’s Day: Here are the 50 Best Romantic Comedies

Film

Videodrome Videodrome

Videodrome is a Different Kind of Modern Classic

Film

The Best TV Shows That Premiered After A Super Bowl The Best TV Shows That Premiered After A Super Bowl

The Best TV Shows That Premiered After A Super Bowl

TV

Quentin Tarantino’s New Book Cinema Speculation, is a Groovy Read Quentin Tarantino’s New Book Cinema Speculation, is a Groovy Read

Quentin Tarantino’s New Book Cinema Speculation is a Groovy Read

Culture

The Last of Us Infected The Last of Us Infected

The Last of Us Looks for Love in a Hopeless Place with “Infected”

TV

Hear Me Out Hear Me Out

Hear Me Out Never Finds Its Own Voice

Film

Kaleidoscope Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope (2023): How the Newest Hypnotic Netflix Toy Stumbles with its Unique Format

TV

Bill Nighy is a Living Marvel in This Kurosawa Remake

Culture

The Last of Us When You're Lost in the Darkness The Last of Us When You're Lost in the Darkness

The Last of Us Begins with the Bleak, Familiar “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”

TV

Sundance 2023: The Eight Must-See Films at the Festival

Culture

maxwell jacob friedman maxwell jacob friedman

MJF and Three Potential First-Time Feuds for 2023 

Culture

Connect