09th Dec2020

‘Muscle’ Review

by Kevin Haldon

Stars: Craig Fairbrass, Cavan Clerkin, Sinead Matthews, Polly Maberly | Written and Directed by Gerard Johnson

I keep saying that the British film industry is on the up and up, with some top quality independent movies breaking through the ranks and showcasing some incredible talent in front of and behind the camera. Directors, actors, producers, DOPs and stunt folks alike are all showing they can cut it with the best of them.

One thing I love, more than seeing the new breed come through, is when someone who has been a workhorse for years and consistently has put in the work but time and time again has been dismissed as “that Footsoldier Guy,” finally starts to garner the reviews and recognition he deserves. That is right folks – Craig Fairbrass has finally started getting the praise from the “critics” that us lowly reviewers knew all along. After not one but two blistering performances this year, with Villain and the newly released Muscle, it has become apparent to most that he has that leading-man quality and it’s going to be hard to overlook him now.

Lets get into this, as we tussle with Muscle… Sorry!

Simon (Cavan Clerkin) lives a very unsatisfying dull and dreary existence. His relationship with his missus isn’t exactly smiles and rainbows as they are both going through the motions really; he hates his job at the call centre, mainly because he is crap at the job but also because he is always being spoken down to by his manager and just ignored by his cold calls. He comes up with a plan to get himself out of his rut and joins a local gym, there he meets personal trainer Terry (Craig Fairbrass). Terry is the kind of man Simon would love to be and seems to have it all figured out. They form a bond forged in sweat and gains, as Simon begins to transform in front our eyes both physically and metaphorically. How far is he willing to go for what he believes to be perfection and is Terry really what he seems to be?

I will always be the first person to hold my hands up and say I was wrong. Even though I was excited to see this, after about 10 minutes I was sat thinking “ooh filming in black and white, how pleased with yourself can you be” but this is absolutely one of those rare cases when the black and white style completely makes sense and not only lends itself to the story but also elevates it to another level. The saturated look of Simon’s life and surroundings just further epitomizes the stark and mundane reality of his life. I actually thought, when he becomes pals with Terry, that maybe stylistically we would get some brighter tones you know lighten things up because things are getting better but in reality nothing has really changed; yes he has gained things but they pail in comparison to what he is losing.

Fairbrass is an absolute monster here and seems to be committing 120% to this role. A role that is not unlike his previous characters but I personally don’t believe we have seen this iteration before as he takes a very deep introspective look into Terry and gleefully waltzes his way through proceedings with maniacal precision and rapidly builds up his pal to slowly rip him apart.

Much like Fincher’s Fight Club in its day, which felt completely on the money as a social commentary for the way men felt like that they needed to take control back, Muscle absolutely nails the quest for self perfection and how that obsession can have extreme consequences. Director Gerard Johnson holds nothing back by showing us the darkest, most depraved, moments in visceral fashion which is only added to by the black and white style because it makes the already horrific disgusting acts on show even more so. I for one am glad I didn’t get THAT scene in glorious technicolour!

I’m not going to sit here and claim to know anything about that “GymBro” life but I do know a few people who are really into that life and I could see how easily something like that could turn as dark as it does for Simon. Mix in the ridiculously relatable way that Clerkin plays the role and it really does become a sorry state of affairs. Like I said everyone is firing on all cylinders here and you will be hard pushed to find another flick this year that makes you want to look away but you can’t stop thinking about.

Muscle has taken a topic that often is glorified, oftentimes with beautiful bright cinematography, and has instead shown us a more realistic dirty gritty movie that in all honesty I will most likely check out again – if only for the powerhouse performance Fairbrass is putting in. I honestly recommend you see Muscle. This is his second movie of 2020 where he has blown me away and I am happy to say it looks like I am not the only one because the reviews this man is getting are incredible. I am sure that if you do check out Muscle though, you will find something else beneath it all in an expertly crafted flick that knows exactly what it is doing and won’t compromise for anyone.

**** 4/5


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