If you are a big fan of gyms, then 'Muscle' made in 2019 by English director Gerard Johnson might annoy you. If you are planning to start such activities you may change your mind. The film by the English screenwriter and independent director frontally attacks the myth of the healthy masculinity of these establishments, following their hero in an event that begins as a social drama with accents of family and morals comedy and turns into a psychological thriller with dark shades as their characters and intentions become clearer. 'Muscle' is not a perfect film and at times explores the limits of what is acceptable or bearable on screen, but it boldly tackles a topic worth considering and offers many interesting ideas and cinematic moments.
Simon, the hero of the film (Cavan Clerkin) is a small tele-marketing clerk who works in an oppressive environment like those who appeared in the movies of the middle of the last century, with workers under constant threat of dismissal if they do not reach their quotas, with a stressful supervisor and especially with a whiteboard on which the sales of each of the workers are marked with lines. His marriage is not going well either, and his self-confidence is zero. A savior seems to appear in his life after Simon, following a TV commercial enrolls at a local fitness room where he meets the charismatic Terry (Craig Fairbrass) who starts playing the role of personal trainer and spiritual mentor. As his muscles thicken due to exercise but also to 'nutritional supplements' and injected steroids and hormones, Simon's self-confidence increases and professional results are not long in coming. But something very wrong is happening with his personality and in his personal life. He becomes irritable and aggressive, Sarah, his wife (Polly Maberly) cannot stand and leaves him, he enters in conflict with co-workers and is fired. Again Terry seems to offer him the 'lifeline' but his intrusion into Simon's life becomes deeply annoying. And then, Terry's biography hides secrets while the circumstances and activities in which he drags the former office worker, now a 'mensch' with swollen muscles and a thick neck, become more and more dubious. Is there any chance to get out?
The story is harsh and maybe, it must be said, quite predictable. The completely open finale puzzled me a bit, the movie seems to end five minutes before the real end. From a cinematic point of view, however, the achievement is remarkable. The image signed by Stuart Bentley uses black and white very suitable for the subject and atmosphere and offers some memorable frames. Cavan Clerkin creates a memorable role, in which the transformation from a fat middle-aged clerk into a stocky, muscular man included physical training added to his acting talent. Craig Fairbrass is extremely appropriate for the role of Terry, although the screenwriter Gerard Johnson was a bit stingy with this character whose past I would have liked to know more about. Undoubtedly however, with 'Muscle', director Gerard Johnson shows us that he is a filmmaker who deserves to be watched.