Shadowboxer arrived through my door earlier in the week via my DVD rental service (I use lovefilm.com here in the UK) and I could not actually remember putting the film on my list or what the film was about?
A quick IMDB search reminded me that it was seemingly a thriller type film about an odd pairing of assassins, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Dame Helen Mirren?! It is directed by 2010 Oscar-nominated Director, for the film Precious, Lee Daniels. I think I had come across the title when looking up what other stuff Vanessa Ferlito had been in, after seeing her again in Day 3 of 24 (the best series of 24 in my opinion).
On the face of it, the film is really quite intriguing. The lead two actors are interesting and are well supported by not only Ferlito, but by Macy Gray (looking a bit like a transvestite, but maybe she always looks like that?), Stephen Dorff (what has happened to him these days?), Mo’Nique (2010 Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (from3rd Rock from the Sun). First-time director Lee Daniels is at the helm, the man who produced Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman. The renowned designer, Vivienne Westwood, also designed the costumes for the lead players.
Here is the trailer:
Shadowboxer is an offbeat and slow-paced film that focuses on the character Mikey, excellently played by Cuba Gooding Jr., who had an abusive father and loses both his parents at a young age. He had been brought up by an assassin Rose (Helen Mirren, also good) and they work together as a close knit team, with a rather unusual relationship where Rose acts both as Mikey’s mother and lover.
We learn very early in the film that Rose is dying of terminal cancer and begins to question whether she is being punished by god. On their next assignment she makes a choice that has a significant effect on both their lives. As the years goes by, Mikey gradually realises he is not simply content with being an assassin but is enjoying playing a father role. Predictably though, events from the past catch up with them.
It is easy to see why Director Lee Daniels would have been interested in this subject but the film does not really know whether it is more a character-driven story or a thriller and fails on both counts. Cuba Gooding Jr. is great in the role, but it was only an hour into the movie that I realised that the film was meant to be about his character Mikey as it had seemed like it was more about Helen Mirren’s character Rose?
The film has a reasonable amount of violence, sex and nudity (e.g. Stephen Dorff’s condom-covered winkle and Gooding Jr and Mirren getting down to it in the park) but they don’t add anything to the story and often serve to make the viewer a little uncomfortable. This could be deliberate of course by the director, but there is no logical reason why it should be so?
In the world the characters operate in, there is plenty of opportunity to film scenes to entertain and enthral without it being cheesy or taking away from the narrative or characters. Take Luc Besson’s 1994 assassin film, Leon, this is a well directed and photographed movie with superb performances that combines drama of character struggles with engaging and exciting action scenes.
Of course, Shadowboxer should not be a copy of this type of film and I respect and enjoy when a film takes an original approach. However, Shadowboxer misses great opportunities to excite and enthral the viewer. I can only guess that the director is trying to show the coldness of the assassin Mikey and how nothing gets to him, not even the potential adrenalin of the kill.
The finale of the story could have been far more tense and exciting in the hands of a more experienced director. There is a good supporting cast, but they are underused with little or no character development.
If you enjoy offbeat type films and find the cast and story intriguing then I would recommend watching Shadowboxer, otherwise I think you will be left rather unsatisfied and disappointed.