A promising Aussie slugger rails against the life mapped out by his iron-fisted Sicilian father-trainer in the energetic boxing drama "Two Fists One Heart."

A promising Aussie slugger rails against the life mapped out by his iron-fisted Sicilian father-trainer in the energetic boxing drama “Two Fists One Heart.” A touch too mechanical, the semi-autobiographical script by fighter-turned-writer/thesp Rai Fazio still packs enough raw emotional clout to connect with a broad male demo, plus female auds wanting to see tough guys credibly externalize their feelings. A strong debut by TV helmer Shawn Seet, the pic features some high-quality fight scenes; it opened modestly on local release March 19. Limited offshore bouts are possible and robust ancillary seems assured.

A rare feature set in the isolated city of Perth, on Australia’s west coast, the pic comes out fighting. A charismatic combo of good looks and talent, nightclub bouncer Anthony Argo (Daniel Amalm) is the toast of the Italian-Australian community after winning the national amateur middleweight title. But his controlling father, Joe (Ennio Fantastichini), deeply wounded by his own pugilistic failure, views Anthony’s victory as just one rung on a large ladder. The central theme of a belligerent father living vicariously through his son gets a solid workout on both sides of the equation.

Unaware of much outside boxing and cruising in muscle cars with best mate Theo (Paul Pantano), Anthony has his eyes opened by Kate (fetching newcomer Jessica Marais), a psychology student he rescues from a couple of goons. The heat in the first flush of their romance is dampened by contrived dialogue, but the dynamics lift when the girl backs away after realizing Anthony is prone to using his fists on the street.

Jolted into taking a hard look in the mirror, Anthony is given good advice by Kate’s brother, Tom (music-comedy star Tim Minchin), a musician who’s come to respect Anthony after first attempting to bait him.

Meanwhile, Joe, furiously rejecting Kate, and deaf to the wise words of wife Concetta (Rosemarie Lenzo), kicks Anthony out and finds a replacement in ex-con Nico Mancini (Fazio), who’s given Anthony’s vacant room and quickly becomes championship material.

The road to an inevitable showdown between troubled champ and brash pretender is engrossing. Assured helmer Seet gets magnetic perfs from Fantastichini and Amalm, and molds a wide arc of characters and concerns about family, honor and acceptance into an exciting grandstand finish.

Shot almost entirely handheld by d.p. Hugh Miller, the pic has a subdued palette that bursts to life in the boxing scenes, which were filmed between real bouts at Perth fight nights to genuine audience reaction. Amalm handles his own glove work with distinction. Eclectic score by David Bridie tops off a pro tech package.

Two Fists One Heart

Australia

Production

A Buena Vista Intl. release of a Film Finance Corp. Australia presentation of a Palm Beach Pictures production, in association with New South Wales Film & Television Office, Showtime. (International sales: Hanway Films, London.) Produced by David Elfick. Executive producers, Rai Fazio, Jeremy Thomas. Directed by Shawn Seet. Screenplay, Rai Fazio.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Hugh Miller; editors, Deborah Peart, Milena Romanin; music, David Bridie; production designer, Sam Rickard; art director, Sam Wilde; costume designer, Gail Pether; sound (Dolby Digital), Grant Shepherd; sound designer, Andrew Plain; stunt coordinator, John Walton; associate producers, Jocelyn Quioc, Jeremy Cumpston; assistant director, John Clabburn; casting, Ann Robinson. Reviewed at Sony Theatrette, Sydney, Feb. 25, 2009. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Daniel Amalm, Ennio Fantastichini, Paul Pantano, Jessica Marais, Rosemarie Lenzo, Rai Fazio, Louisa Mignone, Tim Minchin, Karl Bin Rashid, Monique D'Souza, Mark Cassamento, Costas Kilias, Renato Facretti. (English, Italian dialogue)

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