Risen: The Howard Winstone Story
Risen: The Howard Winstone Story – for those of you unfamiliar with the practice of subtitling – tells the true story of Howard Winstone (Stuart Brennan), a featherwieght boxer from Merthyr Tydfil, Wales whose ambitions are apparently dashed when his fingers are crushed in a mining accident. Determined to pursue his dream despite his lost digits, Winstone ignores his mother’s protests and trains with former European welterweight champion, Eddie Thomas (John Noble); going professional and fighting against the odds to become WBC’s world featherweight champion.
Risen positively brims with dramatic possibilities, with Winstone’s personal strife – both in and out of the boxing ring – providing all involved with a veritable wealth of material to sink their bruised teeth into. With its tale of underdog triumph and teenage tragedy, the film could easily have proven Wales’ answer to Karate Kid or David O’Russell’s Oscar nominated The Fighter. It’s a shame, then, that director Neil Jones and his cast of relative unknowns fail so uniformly and entirely to bring any gravity or dramatic weight to a real life story that plays more like fiction than fact.
While the problems are admittedly many, the biggest issue with Risen is that it rarely feels cinematic, handicapped as it is by a staged and inorganic quality born from a coalescence of poor acting, uninspired direction and negligible production values. Scenes fly by with little effect as plot points and melodrama are lost in a haze of editorial dissolves; the narrative misguidedly merging a traumatic injury with the bandaged recovery, leaving the audience with little time to comprehend the full ramifications – psychological or physical – of the incident.
Within minutes of this tent-pole scene, Winstone is back punching a bag of coal with little difficulty in what amounts to a gross simplification and underestimation of professional boxing. Howard Winstone – the real Howard Winstone – had to revolutionise the way in which he fought in order to salvage his career; as it is represented in the narrative, however, the Welsh Wizard had simply “use the other hand”, as advised by his no-nonsense trainer. While Fringe‘s Noble does his best to ground the narrative in some semblance of reality, however, his boxing coach fails to convince entirely as he shouts inanities into the ring.
Winstone’s professional life isn’t all that has fallen foul of reductionism; his relationships with the caricatures that surround him are distractingly forced, while the character arcs siphoned off to his coughing father and suddenly alcoholic wife only emphasise the lack of subtlety and narrative coherence that plague the film throughout. Most damaging, however, is the stoic performance provided by Brennan, a mumblecore interpretation that isn’t given time to breathe in scenes that often verge on brusque, and render his struggle and ultimate victory unaffectedly flat.
Throw in an abrasively repetitive soundtrack and production values that basically amount to covering Winstone’s disfigured hand with every available prop and disguising the fact that there are only four spectator’s watching each international match, and you are left with a grievously missed opportunity. A few well choreographed punches are insufficient compensation for a bloated and engaging disservice to a truly incredible man.