“Lights Out” is a story that moves with the cautious rhythm and deft assurance of a seasoned prize fighter. A quick jab here, a body shot there, and suddenly there’s nothing but calm as the man in red gloves steps back, surveys the scene, dances nimbly, and plots his next move. You can’t anticipate the blows, can’t know where they’ll land, but when they do they come fast and they land with power and fury and purpose. It’s not a rapid barrage — it’s a slow, steady assault. There’s no epic battle for glory here — just the gradual realization of how a man’s body breaks and where he’s left when it does.
A stern-faced Holt McCallany plays the titular Patrick “Lights” Leary. We enter the story at the moment of the hero’s demise: A grueling title fight that lays him out cold and strips him of his belt. Five years later and five years retired, he still contemplates why the fight went the way it did; why he lost when he clearly deserved the win. Through clouded flashbacks we slowly piece together the events of that night, but we never really see the complete picture. Maybe it’s still a haze to him, or maybe he can’t bear to look back in full. In any case, we know immediately that this is a man filled with regret. We see it in his eyes, in the way he moves dazedly through his forced domestic existence — cooking dinner, looking after the kids, making love to his wife. He’s happy but never quite content. He doesn’t belong here, not yet anyway, not without first taking back what he knows damn well belongs to him. There’s the motive; all he needs now is the chance to make it happen.
When he finds that chance, it’s an alarming departure from the work-hard-and-persevere mantra we’ve seen drilled into the underdog archetype over and over again. This is a comeback story, but don’t expect any Rocky montages or heart-swelling locker room pep talks. It’s all about grit here — down with the generic and up with the unexpected. In this story, redemption is a path controlled by the greedy and the corrupt. The hero is a man we admire but he’s still just a man — flawed like any other and not entirely immune to the damning vices that confront him at every turn. It makes for a tense watch. We root for the hero as he strides boldly through treacherous terrain, but we see him struggle to maintain his identity and we sense we could lose him at any minute.
Like a swift blow the head, “Lights Out” leaves us reeling under the harsh glow of those blinding overhead lights. It’s a brutal examination of the forces that make a man tick — honor, dignity, and the almighty dollar. Don’t come looking for instant gratification or dime-store inspiration; it’ll be a while before the hero sees anything resembling personal growth. Instead, roll with the punches, take one to the chin, and swing like hell when you see an opening. It’s a long trek back to the top and you’re bound to get your ass beat a couple times on the way there.