The Big Man (1990)

Billy Connolly and Liam Neeson in The Big Man (1990)

Mild Bull

On paper "The Big Man" sounds like a fantastic movie with Liam Neeson playing an unemployed miner who in order to feel some sort of dignity agrees to be a bare knuckle fighter. It sounds like on one hand we could have some sort of social commentary about how losing his job also robbed the man of his manhood and on the other a brutal action movie with the violence of bare knuckle boxing. Except it isn't that at all because director David Leland approaches it in an artsy manner, strange scenes merge together before fights are delivered in agonising slow motion. What sounds like it should be raw and brutal ends up dull and drawn out.

For Danny Scoular (Liam Neeson - The Dead Pool) life went wrong the day he was arrested when for hitting a policeman during a protest over the closure of the pit. Having served his time he finds getting work is impossible not just because of the criminal record but also because he is unqualified and it robs him of his manhood, forced to look after the home as his wife Beth (Joanne Whalley - 44 Inche Chest) works. But there is someone interested in Danny, that man is Matt Mason (Ian Bannen) who through Danny's friend Frankie (Billy Connolly) learns that Danny is one hell of a fighter and Matt wants him to be part of a bare knuckle fight. The trouble is that whilst Matt will pay big money and Danny will feel like a man again Beth doesn't want him making money fighting.

Joanne Whalley and Hugh Grant in The Big Man (1990)

So to be blunt "The Big Man" is a disappointment and ironically it is nothing to do with the story. The story is in fact quite good because the first half establishes how Danny feels being unemployed and we also get the problems with Beth when he agrees to fight. This leads slowly through some training till we eventually get a brutal fight and a couple of enjoyable twists which make the story more interesting, one of which is the mystery of a re-occurring shot of a fat man sunning himself miles away in a pool in Spain. That element seems out of place against the bleak scenes set in Scotland but really adds a clever twist come the end of the movie.

The acting is also good and Liam Neeson looks very at home playing a fighting man, lean and dangerous but also a man who needs a reason to fight other than money. Joanne Whalley is also good as his wife Beth as she is opposed to him fighting leading to believable marital issues. And whilst the casting of Billy Connolly as best friend Frankie and Hugh Grant in Beth's friend Gordon seems wrong they are not terrible. In fact Ian Bannen as Matt Mason seems more wrong because he just doesn't deliver the menace of a corrupt businessman.

The trouble is that despite having a good story and good performances the direction and styling ruins "The Big Man" because it borders on the artsy. Right from the start as we have this strange mergence of time frames as we go from Danny & Beth's wedding to the pit closure protest it feels overly surreal and wrong. But it continues and everything seems so drawn out, shots linger on too long as scenes get drawn out so they lack the spark they feel they should have. But the worst for me comes from the actual fighting because everything is slowed down and it looks awkward and dull, where as with speed it would have been exciting. Throw in what seems some uncomfortable and obligatory nudity and sex scenes and visually it just doesn't work.

What this all boils down to is that "The Big Man" could have been a good movie, it has all the ingredients to be memorable but unfortunately the vision of the director and style end up spoiling it, making it weak and unexciting.

Tags: Boxing Movies