12 Round Gun is a semi-autobiographical passion project for star, Writer and first-time Director Sam Upton. After finally hitting rock bottom, Joe Romano (Upton) uses the hope of a longshot return to the boxing ring to reinvent himself, physically and mentally. With the help of his reluctant friend Jimmy, Joe faces his darkest moments to challenge his rival in a 12-round rematch. Upton stars alongside Mark Boone Junior (“Sons of Anarchy”), Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila Ali, Kate Vernon (Battle Star Galactica). 12 Round Gun features real punches by Jared Abrahamson and Golden Glove Boxing Champ Derek Zugic and is currently available through VOD services and will hit select theaters on December 5th.
Upton may have done his best work as the film’s lead actor. When the story opens, Joe is effectively estranged from his family, living alone in a one-bedroom apartment. He works at a junkyard and spends his off time drinking or hustling to further fund his drinking. Joe is a more down-on-his-luck version of Rocky and Upton plays him with the appropriate amount anger, despair and bravado. Upton was able to handle the transition from the sloppy drunk to the focused prizefighter and make it believable.
The characters in Upton’s story feel gritty and true to life. Strangers, friends, and family all respond to the perpetually drunk, boastful and scheming Joe exactly as you would expect, with a mixture of frustration, disappointment, anger, and love. Jimmy (Boone) is critical to Joe’s journey, but without much of a background, his high level of random spirituality and penchant for quoting philosophers makes him come off as exceedingly pompous. As problematic as Jimmy and his “sensitive macho man” persona may be, I think most people know someone who is too “woke” for their own good.
Upton’s direction of the cast was well done, with every member turning in serviceable or better performances. The weakest element of the direction may have been the fight choreography. It serves the story that Upton wanted to tell, but it may have been the most unrealistically brutal fight since Apollo fought Drago. Another thing Upton did do well was the prerequisite boxing training montage, it was how he paired it with a montage of Joe getting in shape mentally that made it more unique in the world of boxing films.
12 Round Gun has issues. It doesn’t have the greatest choreography, and the message is as subtle as a Joe Romano uppercut, but Upton’s gritty tale of revenge and redemption has a lot to offer boxing fans and fans of independent films.
Interview below and trailer.