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In From The Side: Film Review

Matt Carter’s In From The Side is engrossing, beautifully shot and more than just a ‘gay sports film’, even if it does meander a little too heavily at times.

In From The Side is a film about gay men who play rugby, but isn’t just a ‘gay sports film’. Director Matt Carter is much more focused on giving queer cinema an opportunity to explore complex storylines outside the parameters of sexuality and self-discovery, even if the film doesn’t delve as deeply as it could have done into its central themes.

Mark (Alexander Lincoln) thoroughly enjoys playing on the ‘B’ team of a gay rugby club, but is somewhat listlessly going through the motions off the pitch. Particularly in the ‘open’ – albeit with a few rules – relationship he has with his often distant, figuratively and literally, partner Richard (Alex Hammond). Sparks immediately fly when Mark meets Warren (Alexander King), a member of the club’s ‘A’ team, on a post-match night out, and the pair go from tequila shots to sex in a toilet cubicle in the space of about ten minutes. It’s supposed to be a one night stand, but then they can’t seem to keep their hands off each other and it soon blossoms into a full blown affair. But things are made even more complicated by the ensuing secrecy and the looming presence of John (Peter McPherson), a fellow teammate and Warren’s long-term boyfriend.

Carter’s film is clearly a passion project, with as much emphasis on the inclusive rugby as there is on the relationship drama. It feels authentic, naturalistic and awkward without being stilted, and there are moments when the film is gorgeous. (And that’s not just because of the hunky men in shorts.) A moody colour pallet and the muddy, rain- and sweat-slicked training sequences are contrasted by the pulsating purple lights of a nightclub; its steamy moments are sepia toned and overlaid with soft music, which in turn contrast with the intense, atmospheric score during the brutal matches. And the film is full of interesting, if a little bit bland, characters and a really impressive lead performance from Lincoln, who barely leaves the screen.

loud and clear reviews In From The Side 2023 movie film
In From The Side (Strand Releasing)

It’s a little bit ironic, then, that as the film draws to a close, Mark admits to having ‘lost his way’, when that’s unfortunately what the film ends up doing too. It’s an odd mixture of bloated and underdeveloped, and its run time starts to drag after the first hour when it doesn’t delve into the nuance of any of its supporting cast. Carter and co-writer Adam Silver introduce some deep, emotionally resonant themes like infidelity and guilt, but don’t explore them as much as they could. The film meanders, with an elaborate montage of Mark and Warren’s date at the fair and a sequence in Switzerland that almost derails the film entirely, and as such it stays well past when it should have blown its full time whistle, to use a rather ham-fisted sports analogy. As a two-hour plus film it struggles a little, but as a multi-part drama it could have really shined. Or even simply benefited from a more thorough trimming and a firmer focus on what it’s really trying to say.

Because In From The Side is a film about infidelity that doesn’t ever really feel like it wants to get particularly contemplative about its subject. Instead, it has its illicit lovers feeling guilty, bemoaning how awful it is to see and hear of them with their respective partners, but never really having any truly meaningful discussions about it. It’s a passionate relationship, and Mark’s guilt around it all is really palpable in Lincoln’s committed performance, but King’s Warren ends up coming across as a little selfish and obtuse when they aren’t ripping each other’s clothes off.

On a more positive note, the film is a lot more than just a ‘gay sports film’. Yes, it’s gay and yes, it has sports in it, but there’s barely a mention of how those two correlate other than a poignant moment in which the character of Pinky (Pearse Egan) briefly talks about how his relationship to rugby has changed for the better since school. There’s no need for a coming out scene and there’s no homophobia present, instead these are just guys who play rugby and happen to be gay. It even opens with a montage of rugby being played, a heavy contact sport that’s been termed as a “thug’s game played by gentlemen”, and doesn’t sexualise it, cave to stereotypes and misconceptions, or offer much violent confrontations off the pitch. The lads even all enjoy pints together after they’ve tackled each other to the ground for eighty minutes. It’s a joy to see such inclusivity in sport being represented on screen, when the reality is so often the opposite.

With In From The Side, Carter has crafted a film that feels really personal and authentic. It’s flawed, narratively speaking, but is still a really impressive, gorgeous looking low-key debut from a filmmaker that understands the passion needed to fuel a story, even if that story does meander a little too much and doesn’t quite latch on completely to what it wants to say.

Get it on Apple TV

In From The Side is now available to watch on digital and on demand.

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