Blue Blood

One of the better sports movies in recent memory, "Blue Blood" is a counteragent to the era of the steroid-shooting superhero, a film that puts athletics back in perspective, and on a human scale. From the arthouse to ESPN, doc should find a diverse viewership, notably among auds that don't naturally care for boxing, sports in general or recreational violence.

One of the better sports movies in recent memory, “Blue Blood” is a counteragent to the era of the steroid-shooting superhero, a film that puts athletics back in perspective, and on a human scale. From the arthouse to ESPN, doc should find a diverse viewership, notably among auds that don’t naturally care for boxing, sports in general or recreational violence.

Conceding that what they do is barbaric and nonsensical, the aspiring pugilists of Oxford U. nonetheless gird their loins and psyches for combat against rival Cambridge U. But Oxford has no members of the varsity boxing team returning, and needs to find the talent necessary to uphold its honor.

Contrary to common portrayal in features films, fistfights, especially as executed by the as-yet-untrained fighters of Oxford, are awkward, clumsy things. Des, the broken-nosed ex-boxer who coaches the team, emphasizes that the boys — and they are boys — need to be confident, aggressive and unembarrassed by failure. Despite all his urging, however, Des knows that one punch in the face will send some students scurrying into early retirement.

It does with some, but others rise to the occasion, and one of the intriguing things about “Blue Blood” is how difficult it is to guess how an athlete will perform under pressure or how he will react to defeat.

Helmer Stevan Riley follows a fairly traditional path, knitting together profiles of each fighter with training and fight sequences; it works well, given the unpredictability of everything else in the story.

There’s a great deal of tension and triumph in “Blue Blood.” Some of the boys reek of impending doom, others of impending victory — and then tables get turned and the wrong glove is raised in victory.

What’s inspiring is the unvarnished treatment given everything involving Oxford boxing, and college sports in general: the pressure of representing one’s school, the fear — less of pain than of humiliation — and the honesty of emotions. It may be, as some of the participants imply, that what they’re doing doesn’t mean very much, in the great scheme of things. But that’s clearly not how they feel when they walk, or stumble, out of the ring.

Riley’s lensing and editing are first rate.

Blue Blood

U.K.

Production: A Monkey Flip Films production in association with Delirio Films. (International sales: the Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Stevan Riley, Rafael Marmor. Executive producers, Marmor, Nick Fraser. Directed by Stevan Riley.

Crew: Camera (color, DV, transfer to HD), Riley; editor, Riley; music, Itamar Ziegler. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, May 8, 2006. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Intl. Documentary.) Running time: 88 MIN.

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