on what country you live in, you might think this was a film about left-handed
American baseball players. You wouldn’t be alone.
you’d be wrong. Not about the left-handed part, sure. But it’s Ireland and
boxing that take the limelight in this welterweight documentary that’s part of
The Shooting Gallery film series at select Loews Cineplex Entertainment sites.
The film, an underdog to make it to a theater in most neighborhoods, follows a
young, affable contender from his downtrodden RV (or “caravans,” as they
call these vehicles in that part of the world) neighborhood outside Galway to
Olympic hopeful, a trans-Atlantic road paved with dreams born in the community
of Travellers, a society of marginalized citizens ostracized by most of Ireland.
Like a beautiful flower blooming in a field of weeds, we find Francis Barrett
breaking the social handicaps that have cuffed and taunted his family and
neighbors, many living in poverty as the equivalent of Irish gypsies. Francis
embodies the stuff of folk and sports hero as he battles discrimination and
fierce competition while rising through the amateur ranks to become the first
Traveller to gain prominence in the ring. Rocky, move over: there’s a new tiger afoot.
no great filmmaking here, let alone running water or electricity back home.
Handheld camerawork blown up from Super16mm indicates the budget constraints.
But you’ll find enough rounds of spirit and jabs of honesty that will make you
want to believe that miracles do happen, small ones at least. Director Liam
McGrath, who trailed the light-welterweight for a few years, paints this
social/sports documentary with gray clouds in a skyful of hope, with the short
but powerful Francis as the Moses that would lead his people to the promised
land. In a biblical sense, the fighter’s staff is personalized by
sixty-something Chick Gillen, a former pugilist and local
barber-turned-proud-fatherly coach to the lad, sculpting him at the Olympic
Boxing Club, a lackluster establishment catering to boys of lesser economic and
class backgrounds. Francis’ training facility is the streets, sidewalks, and
homes in his immediately vicinity, but more often just a graffiti covered
rusting trailer in his backyard, a barren stretch of hillside where his family
moved in 1980 with seventeen other families.
specifically showcases its subject’s rise from junior boxing to representing
his country in the games in Atlanta over a short fifteen-month period. The Great
Irish Hope breaks through brutally racist, political-motivated moments to score
victories over small minds when he’s not battering opponents in the ring.
Nicolas Cruz, previously with Cuba’s national boxing team, provides spiritual
and practical career advice that forces Francis to move his training camp to
London, but he often returns home and confers with his mentor on strategy.
first third of the short seventy-seven-minute feature culminates with Francis’
departure for the United States, where journalist Tom Humphries comments on how
the focused boy, shown raising his country’s flag to the world during the
opening ceremonies, has inspired a nation. Director McGrath emphasizes the same,
intercutting the American bouts with the contender’s family and friends back
home, their eyes glued to televised images of the blue-trunked warrior battling
in the 63.5-kilogram weight class. It’s an anxious, Cinderella moment so early
in the film that could have proven a disappointment based on the ultimate
outcome. Yet the filmmaker, in keeping with the linear nature of his work,
brings Francis home a hero. He marries his girl friend of four years in a
multiple ceremony before moving with her back to London to various odd jobs and
a training regime that quickly brings him to near simultaneous matches in quest
of both the English and Irish ABA championships, a feat not accomplished in over
one rousing and apparently nearly unexpected victory, McGrath must have taken a
vacation as we have a “five months later” title bringing the audience up to
date on Francis and wife Kathleen new parents watching the baptism of their son.
The film jigsaws back to the boxer’s Traveller home, where the Barretts are
fighting eviction, then to a final nervous bout that may well decide Francis’
On the road to the Olympics in Sydney this summer, Southpaw would be a great orientation film for any of the thousands participating down under. As a theatrical feature it’s a simple and refreshing diversion.