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cast: Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding Jr, Stephen Dorff, and Vaness Ferlito

director: Lee Daniels

93 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail
[released 7 May]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ian R. Faulkner
Shadowboxer deals with the strange Oedipal relationship between two assassins for hire, Mikey (Cuba Gooding Jr) and Rose (Helen Mirren), and opens with a flashback of the young Mikey as he listens to his father beat his mother. Troubled, Mikey wanders the room and finds his father's silencer-fitted pistol. He picks it up and fires, the bullet hitting a mirror just as his father's reflection appears in it.

Next we get to meet the psychotic Clayton (Stephen Dorff) who hires Rose and the adult Mikey to off his wife (played by Vanessa Ferlito) for supposedly having sex with one of his oddball underlings (no pun intended here given said underling's violent demise via an eight ball in the mouth and a broken pool cue up the arse). However, when Rose comes face to face with the heavily pregnant Vickie, she finds the she is unable to pull the trigger, especially when Vickie's water breaks at gunpoint and Rose decides then and there to deliver the baby boy and take both mother and child with her.

Now why, you may ask, would a harden contract killer do this? Well, you see, Rose is dying of cancer and having evaluated her life and found it wanting, wishes to find a balance and perhaps atone for, or at the least mitigate, her past acts with this moment of professional weakness - Rose states early on in the film that she feels she is being punished and then, later, that the baby is a gift from God. Unsurprisingly, Mikey has doubts, but Rose and Mikey are intrinsically linked by their past, which unfolds in a series of flashbacks as the film progresses, and so he buries his feelings in order to make Rose happy.

Meanwhile, with his wife missing, Clayton assumes the deed is done and, whilst Vickie, Rose and Mikey raise the boy in hiding, he carries on being his unpredictable gangster self, until ultimately and obviously he learns the truth and sets out to put things right, thus fulfilling the core concept of the movie: how a parent's lifestyle can be passed down to a child.

Shadowboxer comes from first time director Lee Daniels, who has previously been listed as a producer on such films as The Woodsman, and Monster's Ball (2001), obviously wanted his first film to be a high-toned, ultra cool, sophisticated crime drama, dealing with the cyclic nature of life, death and the interconnectedness of cause and effect, and in some respects that is his failing: he just tries too hard and, ultimately, what he delivers is a film full of clichés, which at times strays into arty pretension.

Don't get me wrong, the film is not all bad; it just isn't as good as it thinks it is. The acting, on the whole, is first rate and Gooding Jr, as the isolated and troubled Mikey, is excellent. The main problem is with the plot and the film's own sense of identity: some of the dialogue is misplaced, the score is atrocious and the sex scenes run the gamut from explicit to cringe worthy to ludicrous. Verdict: more miss than hit.

As for the extras, the DVD offers a 'making of', a behind-the-scenes production diary and a single trailer, all of which are very average.

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