Part historical biopic, part underdog tale, director Daniel Graham’s Prizefighter: The Life Of Jem Belcher chronicles the rise and fall of 19th-century boxer James Belcher (played by screenwriter Matt Hookings) from his boyhood days in Bristol under the wing of his bare-knuckle brawler grandfather (Russell Crowe) to championship fights within London’s aristocracy. There’s a lot to take in within it’s relatively short runtime, and unfortunately the script is unable hit every emotional beat as it attempts to cover so much ground.
The most interesting facet about Prizefighter is its historical setting. It’s a 19th-century Rocky in which the star is a real-life boxing figure. It comes as a disappointment, then, that the historical context accumulates to little more than a backdrop to a run-of-the-mill underdog tale with all the familiar trimmings and clichés synonymous with the genre. Though viewers may not have heard of Jem Belcher before, they’ll have undoubtedly seen this story a dozen times. The soundtrack is likewise typical of what audiences would expect. The sombre strings are at the heart of many wonderful melodies. However, the timbre is more reminiscent of a medieval setting, which is jarring given the film is set in the Georgian era.
Hookings does a commendable job as the lead. He has strong charisma and a natural likeability, though the screenplay doesn’t give him much to work with. It’s Crowe and Ray Winston (who plays Belcher’s very sweary trainer) who steal the show. Neither of the pair have much screentime, but their commanding presence dominates each of their scenes, no matter how short lived.
This flick’s greatest stumbling point is a clunky structure. After viewers spend the first half rooting for Jem training to win a championship fight, they’re expected to do the same again as the character once again prepares himself for another important match. It’s essentially the same plot on repeat. Even though the stakes are much higher the second time around, rushed character development and overly familiar plot beats mean the blows don’t hit as hard as they should.
Prizefighter is released on Amazon Prime Video on 22nd July 2022.
Watch the trailer for Prizefighter here: