Despite its happy, Irish-sounding title, Donnybrook is bleak misery porn about meth and meth-adjacent Midwesterners scrambling to survive and/or kill each other. It’s compelling stuff, written and directed with mean efficiency by Tim Sutton (Dark Night), but I wish the main character were more interesting and that the point were more insightful than “Golly, it sure sucks to be poor and desperate.”
Our bare-knuckled hero is Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell), a veteran in a trailer park with two filthy children and a junkie wife (Dara Tiller). Earl has had it up to HERE with Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo), the brutal drug manufacturer/distributor who supplies junk to the missus and everyone else in town, and he starts a feud with Angus and his sister/business partner, Delia (Margaret Qualley), whom Angus treats like actual garbage and who is perhaps not entirely loyal to him. Having obtained the entry fee by robbing a gun store, Earl makes his way to the Donnybrook, an underground brawl offering $100K to the last man standing, pursued by Angus and Delia, all of them pursued by a cop (James Badge Dale) of questionable character.
Sutton, adapting Frank Bill’s novel, sustains a menacing tone throughout largely through the Angus character, a fearsome boogeyman with no compunctions about killing. Bell shows gritty strength as Jarhead Earl, but the character is stoic to the point of feeling under-written. Still, the showdowns among Earl, Angus, Delia, and the cop are viscerally effective — not to mention the Donnybrook itself, which is insane — and the whole thing has an appealing somberness to it.