Directors: Ludwig Shammasian, Paul Shammasian
Starring: James Cosmo, Ethan Cosmo, Andreas Evangelou, Sam Brown
Running Time: 98 min
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a film like The Pyramid Texts wouldn’t work. A pair of filmmaking brothers in their feature debut pair with a veteran character actor who talks to a camera for 90 minutes. It is a glorious example of how direction, pace, screenplay and performance can combine to make something that far exceeds the sum of its parts.
James Cosmo plays Ray, an ageing boxing coach with something important to say. He wanted to write a letter to his estranged son, but was advised that showing his face would best portray his emotions. So he sets up a camera in the middle of a ring and bares his soul. The opening five minutes show Cosmo’s lumbering presence as he enters the gym, slowly circles the ring, pours a drink of water, steps through the ropes and assembles a tripod to record. Directing duo Ludwig and Paul Shammasian deliberately take their time here; by the time Ray is ready to speak we are desperate to hear what he’s got to say. He doesn’t disappoint.
Predictably, he starts with boxing, but this is no mere gushing on the virtues of pugilism, instead he delivers a poetic soliloquy on the art of wrapping your hands before a fight. He preaches the importance of looking after your tools, eloquently linking the act with the ancient Egyptians and their methods of mummification. From there he turns anecdotal, speaking of his battles in the ring and with the bottle. He delivers history lessons on how a boxing match decided the Second World War. In a beautiful moment he speaks on different religions and the connections between their prophets and the men he has fought over the years. There is a genuine pleasure in slowly understanding his message. As a lesson, a memoir, a confession, a prayer, an apology: his words carry weight.
It’s a powerful script, but that alone would struggle to hold the attention for the entire runtime if they were not being delivered with the authority and conviction of Cosmo. He has always been a unique journeyman actor; able to blend into any genre or timeframe, but with strong, distinctive features which make him impossible to miss, even when he’s just a background character. Here he is front and centre and delivers the performance of a lifetime, managing to captivate from the opening moment. It is a powerhouse performance. Ray is strong yet humbled, containing wisdom with a suppressed anger. A victim of his own pride, unable to accept his fear and shortcomings until it is too late. Cosmo delivers his lines with intensity and honesty. You can’t take your eyes off him.
The Shammasian brothers complete this spell-binding film with a confidence and maturity that is unexpected from a debut feature effort. They clearly have enough confidence in their film to keep additional flourishes to a minimum; the occasional cut away to a young boxer training here, a small flurry of background music there. Their camera work is their own personal masterstroke, knowing exactly how long to linger in a close-up, or when to pull back to obscure Ray’s face. The Pyramid Texts is certainly one of those finest of hidden gems, and a debut to get excited about. One that will give you goosebumps and make your hairs stand on end. Seek it out.