24 7: Twenty Four Seven

24 7: Twenty Four Seven, directed by Shane Meadows, is a strange sort of 90s version of the old-fashioned boxing flick where the tough street kid fights his way out of poverty and hardship to success (even though it is often a problematical kind of success) by learning courage and self-discipline in the ring. The difference in this film is that there is nowhere for the kids to go. Not only is there no success,  but success is hardly even imaginable. There seems to be no world at all beyond their gritty working class lives in a sub-Lawrentian Nottingham. It is this absence of any direction in the lives of the boys to whom Alan Darcy (Bob Hoskins) teaches boxing which is the point of the film — which is another way of saying it has no point. And that’s the point.

Actually, the point is to provide a really juicy role for Hoskins, who in Britain is something of a thespian bigfoot. His voiceover narration tries to milk the pathos of the boys’ situation in several overwritten passages about the bleakness of their lives. The possibility that this bleakness might have something to do with the fact that none of them seems to have a job or an education to attend to and that all of them spend their lives on the streets or in the pubs or getting high at home never comes up. Bleakness in this kind of film — which is shot in black and white partly for this reason — is simply a given. The boys are only interested in boxing in the first place, presumably, because they live among drunkenness and domestic violence in overcrowded tract housing with furniture which “cries out second hand and poor.”

These are people, Hoskins’s narration tells us, who have “lost touch with their origins,” but it seems to me that exactly the opposite is the problem. They are seen as the prisoners of their origins, for whom no ambition makes any sense but finding something else, like boxing, to pass the time. There are, it’s true, several references to the self-discipline that boxing is supposed to promote but never any suggestion that it has any larger context or purpose. “Control” — especially in the case of one of the fighters whose temper is always getting him into trouble — is an end in itself until the climactic moment of the film when Darcy himself loses control. It is a shocking defeat, and yet something like it can hardly have been unexpected.

It strange for a film about fighting to begin from the premiss that fighting is useless and victory impossible, but that is what we have here. As a result, the whole film is an exercise in self-pity. These are the poor little lambs who have gone astray, damned from here to eternity, and if they are not proud of it, Shane Meadows and his co-writer and producers are. They bear that working class stigmata so beloved in British films of having to spend all their waking hours (the title comes from that deliberate bit of exaggeration of the self-proclaimed oppressed who are said to be “taking s*** twenty-four [hours]-seven [days]”) smoking and drinking down in the pub. It’s a kind of substitute for military camaraderie, this life of the lads who drink and play and joke together and whose only contact with females is (or is imagined to be) predatory.

“It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have,” says Hoskyns’s voiceover, “if you have never had anything to believe in, you’re always going to be poor.” But I don’t see that these young men who have nothing to believe in but themselves — until Darcy flips out and the club is abandoned — are any less poor. They know that after they come home from the gym they will just go back to their sordid, pointless, empty, self-indulgent lives.

The best bit of the film is that classic figure in British film of the last twenty years or so, the small town hustler who’s managed to poke his head up above the general level by dint of shady or downright criminal activity — a thug but a charming thug. Such a character is Ronnie Marsh (Frank Harper), father of a son nicknamed Tonka or Tonks because he is fat. Ronnie contributes money to Darcy’s gym in the hope that the boy will shape up under the training. “You can’t go through life being fat and stupid,” he says to his son, but Darcy, who sees that the boy will never make a fighter, tells him that he can go through life being fat and stupid, and he becomes as happy as all the rest of the ne’er-do-wells whom Darcy encourages to fight but not to do anything else. He should have listened to the old man.

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