Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Rachael Moriarty & Peter Murphy
Written by: Rachael Moriarty & Peter Murphy
Starring: Killian Scott, John Bradley, Nika McGuigan, Peter O’Meara, Barry Keoghan, Tom Davis, Aoibhinn McGinnity & David Murray
Picture it. It’s 1 am and you’re flipping through channels when you come across a film you’ve never heard of before. This film is just starting and the opening scene immediately grabs your interest, so you decide to keep watching to see where things go from there. That’s exactly how I discovered TRADERS, an Irish rip-off of FIGHT CLUB with death and cash. Don’t get me wrong. This film has interesting ideas and a few competent scenes, but it wastes its potential and neat premise by repeating stuff that’s already been seen before (mostly in FIGHT CLUB).
Harry Fox (Killian Scott) and his mates have been fired from their cushy company jobs. In the middle of an economic crash, their lives are taking a downward spiral for the worse. However, pudgy oaf Vernon Styles (John Bradley, who I mainly know as Sam in GAME OF THRONES) has an interesting business proposal. Vernon is a sick bastard and wants to capitalize on desperate people through underground fights to the death. Two “traders” will put all of their cash in green sports bags, meet in a seedy bar, take a few random buses to avoid being followed, dig a grave in the middle of nowhere and then fight to the death. The winner walks away with all of the money. Harry thinks this idea sounds crazy, but soon becomes addicted to the ritual of killing for cash. Meanwhile, Vernon plans to take his booming lethal business in a dangerous new direction.
TRADERS opens with a bang. We get Killian Scott’s voiceover narration hooking the viewer into the proceedings by telling them how easy it is to crush a windpipe. He then flashes back to tell us the story of how he learned such horrible details and it starts off quite interesting. We see the desperation that Harry and his buddies endure as they face potential homelessness. Their stress and fears seem legitimate, which is why this FIGHT CLUB-esque idea works decently enough for the first 20 minutes or so. Then the film goes on repeat for nearly 40 minutes before attempting to complicate things with a few half-assed plot turns in the third act.
What TRADERS nails right out of the gate are gritty fight scenes and cat-and-mouse sequences. Weapons (excluding guns) are allowed in these fights, which means that we get an intense face-off of a bare-knuckled guy taking on a lunatic who’s swinging a chain. There are bloody moments of knife play and a brutal showdown between two veteran “traders.” The film also shows dirty tricks that certain folks try to pull in order to secure an easy win. However, these fight scenes break up the monotonous storyline of Harry’s contentious relationship with Vernon and a love-interest subplot that’s unceremoniously dropped altogether. The film goes to the trouble of setting this latter subplot up and then never really does anything with it, when there are crazy opportunities placed right into the screenplay. At least, the dialogue has an occasional dark humored edge to it.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that Killian Scott (who also starred in 2014’s CALVARY and 2015’s ’71) is a bland lead. A lot of that might be attributed to his one-note protagonist, because Harry is neither a charismatic hero or a fascinating antihero. He just sort of exists and goes with the flow of the screenplay. This becomes troubling when his voiceover narration plays a significant role in furthering along the plot. This film is only 90 minutes long and I found myself getting bored around the halfway point. Some of this can be attributed to film’s dull repetition, but some of it falls directly onto the shoulders of Scott’s so-so performance.
John Bradley is great on GAME OF THRONES and plays one of the only truly good characters worth rooting for in that series. However, he seems miscast as the desperate villain in this film. Instead of being intimidating or weaseling his way around shady areas, Bradley’s Vernon just sort of mopes and whines…until the film feels the need to try something with him in the final third that simply doesn’t work. The rest of the supporting characters come and go when it’s convenient for the plot. This includes a forgotten love-interest, Harry’s prudish boss, a couple of shady businessmen, and various violent traders.
Ultimately, TRADERS has a kernel of a good film within its dull, disappointing narrative. This movie could have been cool in theory, but most of it seems to be an Irish version of FIGHT CLUB that has solid fight scenes and not much else. The cheap looking production values give away that this was a low-budget effort and the acting (even from a few veteran performers) is pretty bad. Still, the positive qualities almost balance out the negative ones to make something watchable…if it’s 2 am and you’ve got no other interesting choices on TV. Otherwise, I’d advise you to skip this missed opportunity in favor of FIGHT CLUB or other (better) gritty action-thrillers.