Documentaries are at their very best when they expose us to a segment of society that we did not even know existed. I am well aware of the Gypsy culture and their legendary fighters but hearing about the story of the McDonagh’s and their brutal and violent family infighting was a truly mesmerizing experience as not enemies but blood relatives go to war with one another in the streets of England and Ireland.
I have always been a sucker for documentaries and KNUCKLE is one of the best because of its grass roots style and its passionate eye on the subject. Knuckle is an accidental documentary which is also what makes it so effective. It is the story of a filmmaker Ian Palmer who is asked to shoot a Gypsy family wedding and finds himself suddenly drawn into a family rivalry that is so old that many do not even seem to know why. These families now meet in deserted locals and pair off their best fighters to fight bare knuckled till one submits or is beaten to a bloody mess unconscious all for the honour of their family name. Their fights are so legendary that when local police get wind of a fight they dispatch over 200 armed police to intervene over a few dozen gypsy fighters.
Over the period of 12 years Ian Palmer is invited to meet and shoot footage of three families as they fight for bragging rights and deal with a 30 year old grudge. What sets the stage for the 30 year rivalry is a family get together that turned violent resulting in the death of one of the clan. This split the cousins and is the basis for their 30 years of in fighting and violence all in the name of family honour.
Ian’s passionate look at not just the fighters but the families themselves and his clear empathy and feelings towards the subjects is what makes this documentary film so effective. At no time is Ian meddling in the unfolding story or trying to sway the outcome but he faces his own conflicts as he watches fighters and families he has known for 12 years face tragedy as part of their ongoing feud and has to question his own involvement and whether he is glamorizing and adding fuel to their conflict by shooting videos for them.
Filmmaker Ian Palmer is there to witness it all as is his camera.
KNUCKLE is raw, disturbing and extremely violent but it also will give you a look at a society you likely know very little about. The message hidden in this movie is subtle but it is a movie that will stay with you long after you turn it off. Most often we fear our enemies but what could be worse than your own family becoming your enemy? A true blood enemy is both terrifying but more so tragic.
KNUCKLE is currently playing on the Xbox Live Video on Demand service which is where I watched it. Well worth the rental if you are a fan of documentaries and also enjoyed SNATCH. It gives a hard true look at underground fighting in the Gypsy society without the glitz and glamour that Guy Ritchie brought to it.