by Colin Lomas
Boxing has always been a good friend of cinema. Maybe it’s the capacity to set a narrative baring symmetry between life’s emotional complexities and ten progressively gruelling three minute rounds. Maybe it’s the ubiquitous kid sweeping off the streets into the bosom of the club looking for salvation, ultimately realising their redemption or solidifying their inevitable ruin. Maybe we crave watching eyes being unceremoniously sewn back together at ringside. Whatever the reason, canvas-based movies are sticking around, and the Shammasian’s brothers’ take the metaphorical to a logical conclusion in their first feature length movie.
Geoff Thompson’s stage adaptation sees boxing club owner Ray (Cosmo) set up a video camera in the middle of the ring to make a visual letter to his estranged son Bomber. As he takes a stool and faces the camera, he starts to detail his early life as a fighter and the absolute love he has for his only child. As his account unfolds, he progressively reaches deeper inside himself as an attempt to explain the disconnect between father and son; pride, rejection, his struggle with the bottle and primarily regrets over his denial and misconception of fear.
For The Pyramid Texts to work successfully, it required an outstanding performance from its leading man. At first glance, James Cosmo, a journeyman actor with nearly 200 acting credits to his name, may come as a surprise. Known mainly as a go-to man for gruff working class Glaswegian hard-man parts – his characters are rarely credited with surnames; Big John, Alfie, Ray – he may not seem the perfect choice for an ardent and profound ninety-minute monologue to his estranged son. Yet as the final credits role, it’s almost impossible to think it could have worked as well with anyone else. Had Cosmo been born in West Hollywood and The Pyramid Texts directed by Clint Eastwood, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Renton’s dad lifting a gong at the Oscars. The toughened façade works completely in his favour as the toil of the unfamiliar heart-pouring, particularly in the final act, becomes increasingly apparent throughout.
The Shammasian brothers’ attention to small details adds excellently to the atmosphere. The largely silent backdrop of the boxing club acts as an amplifier of every ambient sound; a footstep on the canvas, the crisp clicking of Ray’s crucifix as his carefully places it on the floor, the soft patter of rain on the roof. The rare pieces of music are understated, a faint ensemble of ebows and droning strings reminiscent of the first few bars of a Sigur Ros track. Nothing overtly clever is ever attempted with the camera, every shot is perfectly set for composition and to give Cosmo’s performance maximum impact.
Since cinema shifted from its roots as an extension of the theatre and found its own identity, stage adaptations have rarely made an effective transition to the big screen. Over the past 40 years one hand would provide enough digits to count the success stories (Glengarry Glen Ross, Rabbit Hole and more recently Fences), yet The Pyramid Texts manages it well. A superbly weaving script, sympathetic cinematography and a truly stunning performance from Cosmo all combine to create a beautiful, heart-felt portrayal of one man’s struggle to handle fatherhood while dealing with his own demons.
Dir: Ludwig Shammasian, Paul Shammasian
Scr: Geoff Thompson
Cast: James Cosmo
Run Time: 137 Minutes
Pyramid Texts is available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play now.