By adhering to the classic fight-movie formula of beleaguered pugilist vs manipulative crime boss in this adaptation of William McIlvanney's novel, Leland and scriptwriter Don Macpherson have made one of Britain's finest existential thrillers in ages. When unemployed Scottish miner Danny Scoular (Neeson) agrees to fight a one-off bare-knuckle bout, he not only risks losing his wife (Whalley-Kilmer) and kids, but enters a hellish domain lorded over by ruthless Glasgow gang boss Matt Mason (Bannen). The tortuous, taciturn script centres on questions of integrity, courage, commitment and betrayal; and the mood of corruption, paranoia and violence is palpable throughout, thanks in no small measure to excellent performances from Neeson and Bannen. There are minor flaws, but as a portrait of one man's desperate struggle to survive against all odds, the film is tough, taut and intelligently critical of the man's world it depicts.
Cast and crew