Ambitious small time boxing promoter Billy ‘Shiner’ Simpson (Michael Caine) puts it all on the line – his money, his two daughters’ money and his hopes for the future – when he sets up a fight with US promoter Frank Spedding (Martin Landau) for his boxer son Eddie ‘Golden Boy’ (Matthew Marsden) that could lead to a crack at a world title fight. When Eddie loses, Billy is convinced his son took an arranged dive but while he confronts him about it, Eddie is shot. Furious and seeking revenge, Billy accuses everyone near him until the surprising truth is dramatically revealed.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It’s not because of two of its veteran stars Michael Caine and Martin Landau, that Shiner is an old fashioned sort of film, but because of the subject matter: the ever-useful world of pro boxing, juxtaposed to power, pride, betrayal and greed. Not to mention illegal activities. Caine is the star, Shiner, a man driven by the sort of ambition that chews you up. Landau makes a couple of appearances as an American manager of an up and coming black boxer who puts paid to Shiner’s hopes for his son to go on to the world title fight. Not only does his son lose the big fight, he is shot dead by a mysterious assassin. When at the end we discover who that is, the full extent of the tragedy is revealed. But the film has greater aspirations than it is able to reach. It’s gritty and powerfully performed, solidly directed, well photographed and scored (by Australia’s Paul Grabowsky), but the screenplay is bereft of characters with whom we can readily associate or with whom we sympathise (I speak for myself, of course…if you’re a boxing promoter, who knows). It is, however, effective in its exploration of Shiner’s tragedy, the giant risks taken in pursuit of nothing more than wishful thinking. The relationship between him and his son the Golden Boy who turns out to be more like tin, is portrayed as one dimensional: Shiner relates to him only as a ticket to boxing fame. This diminishes the emotional impact of the film’s outcomes for us, despite Caine’s excellent, powderkeg performance. The subplot that adds tension to the story works well as a device to open up the film and give it a setting and a context, but the sum of all its parts still doesn’t quite add up to the knockout it might have been.
Review by Louise Keller:
A tough and uncompromising drama about a boxing promoter betrayed by his family, Shiner may not totally succeed in its story outcome, but it is worth seeing for Michael Caine’s devastatingly powerful and vulnerable performance alone. Paul Grabowsky’s compelling jazz score, counter-pointing disturbing sequences is one of the most striking features of this film and used to great effect. Made in the year 2000 (between Quills and Get Carter for Caine), while Shiner may credit William Shakespeare for inspiration from King Lear, in fact, the similarities are only superficial. The very first scenes are fuzzy, video images. Watch closely – you will see them again, but not until the end of the film, when you will understand their relevance. But it takes us no time at all to understand what kind of man is Billy ‘Shiner’ Simpson, a working class, small time promoter with no conscience and a massive chip on his shoulder. Using violence and thuggery to pave his destiny, Shiner has no compunction about using any means whatsoever to get what he is after. After all, Shiner cares only about Shiner. “I shouldn’t be doing this,” he moans, as he throws a punch to a helpless victim. “I’ve got arthritis in me hands.” We first meet Shiner in the back seat of a limousine. He is on the mobile phone trying to make arrangements to hire a stretch limo – for the event of his life, when his champion boxer son gets a step closer to a world title fight. It is quite clear from the cockney accents and uncouth manners of his two minders sitting in the front seat that money cannot buy class. But money and fear can buy many things, and tension and anticipation starts to mount as the countdown begins to the big night. Violent behaviour seems to run in the family – his two daughters fight physically and the relationships of family members appear to be based on fear. The characters are very real and I love the scenes where the incongruity of the East London rough ‘n tough lifestyle is transposed into out of place situations. There’s a scene when a bunch of uncouth East Londoners, overdressed, loud and totally lacking in style, heap into a white stretch limo singing Cockney songs and guzzling champagne. This is an ugly story, and in the final scenes when we are faced with gory, senseless brutality, there is a sense of there being no sense for any of what happened. Matthew Marsden impresses as Eddie ‘Golden Boy’ and Martin Landau brings weight and presence to his snobbish, American promoter. All the performances are excellent, but Caine is simply superb – from callous and brutally cruel to vulnerable and tragic. Caine allows us to understand this man, and although he always remains an abhorrent character, he also gains our sympathy. Disturbing and well deserving of its R rating, Shiner is a hard-hitting drama, where the punches go far deeper than the flesh.
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CAST: Michael Caine, Martin Landau, Frances Barber, Frank Harper, Andy Serkis, Claire Rushbrook, Daniel Webb, Matthew Marsden, Kenneth Cranham, David Kennedy, Peter Wight, Nicola Walker, Gary Lewis, Derrick Harmon, Josephine Butler
PRODUCER: Geoffrey Reeve, Jim Reeve
DIRECTOR: John Irvin
SCRIPT: Scott Cherry (King Lear by William Shakespeare)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mike Molloy
EDITOR: Ian Crafford
MUSIC: Paul Grabowsky
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Austin Spriggs
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 15, 2003