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BATTLES is the tale of a man who has run away from his home life as he suffers from depression. He hides away in a hotel room waiting for someone or something to give him the strength he needs to return to reality.
A quirky and heroic attempt, but uneven and needing polish
The Saxons were famous for North Sea piracy. In the 5th Century, there was an area of England known as 'litora Saxonica', owing either to the liability to Saxon attack or, as some think, the establishment of Saxon colonies there.
Saxon is also the name of a grim, modern-day council estate in London. A place where people are under constant threat from brutal bailiffs.
Fast Eddie just wants to get away. To Spain, preferably. But fresh out of the nick for killing a bailiff, trouble seems to follow him. Like the £500 he borrowed before going inside. It's now turned into £10,000. Loan shark Sammy removes one of Eddie's eyes. Just to keep things running smoothly. Now Eddie looks a bit of a prat with a bandage over one eye. Linda, an old sweetheart, wants nothing to do with him. But she needs a favour a too. So Eddie gets hired as her private detective to track down missing millionaire husband Kevin. A job that soon gets him into even more bother.
Saxon erupts onto the screen and it takes a little longer than usual to get comfy again in your seat. Is it a thriller? A comedy? A violent slice-of-life soap? Or a western, a fantasy-adventure, transported to an unlikely setting? Nothing seems to fit. Eddie has the air of a Don Quixote. He hasn't had the time to find his feet before trouble finds him. He tramps about uneasily. By turns, an object of fear and ridicule.
With such uncertain genre signals, one of the difficulties with Saxon is believing in the characters. They seem reality-challenged without being fully surreal. High production values could bring off such an uneasy marriage in O Brother Where Art Thou, but I felt Saxon expected a lot of me to suspend disbelief in the face of such uneven characterisation. There are moments of touching brilliance, such as when Eddie and his mother meet up. In the dark, she doesn't recognise him. She calls out her services of the night - before they come face to face in mutual pain and embarrassment. At other times we have to give it a big benefit of the doubt to avoid the feeling that we are watching acting-by-numbers.
What is so sad is that there are so many dazzling ideas here, so much talent that simply hasn't been polished into a sufficiently finished end-product. The film's website describes it as made with "hope, love, half a shoestring & private equity." Actors have received minimal fees and deferred payment.
Eddie is remarkably elevated to a protagonist of almost mythical qualities by the end of the film. Greg Loftin (who debuts as director, writer, executive producer, editor, and casting director) accomplishes a supreme feat of pulling his many larger-than-life characters together in a clever and strangely satisfying finale. His first feature is an undoubted accomplishment. People have worked very hard to get it to the point where it has been nominated for the Edinburgh International Film Festival Michael Powell Award. The best reason to see it might be to witness such raw talent rearing its head on a non-existent budget. But it might also leave audiences feeling they have paid to see a stupendous student-level film rather than a movie worthy of mainstream release.
As with any review, the opinion is only that of one reviewer. Saxon's quirkiness may hit you like a breath of fresh air, its originality enliven a jaded palate or two, or it might prove me wrong and win the Michael Powell. Or maybe I'm right and, in spite of the undeveloped qualities hiding beneath the surface, Saxon remains a missable low-brainer.
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