It’s a wonder no one has a made a documentary about the Oxford Boxing Club before: The contrast between the brutality of the pursuit and the intellectual reputation of the school is an obvious hook, and the story of young men in search of greatness is a theme that is guaranteed to hook an audience. With so much handed to him, however, the task of the filmmaker who takes on the subject is in some ways even more daunting -- how to take the film beyond the obvious? How to surpass our exceptions, and show us more than the children of privilege, taking a brief, protected walk on the wild side? In Blue Blood, director Stevan Riley confronts these challenges head-on and, in many ways, succeeds admirably. Focused on just a small handful of boxers, his film is wildly engaging and cleverly constructed, faltering only, oddly enough, during the climactic annual match against Cambridge.

The keys to Riley’s film are his athletes, and he chooses them wonderfully. One wonders how many students he filmed before finding five as diverse as the bunch he settled on, but the process was clearly worth all the time and film it took. From Kavanagh, a first-year studying philosophy who looks to weigh all of 80 pounds, to Justin, a gung-ho American Air Force Academy graduate in pursuit of a PhD in astrophysics, Blue Blood’s boxers come from far-flung corners of society. Though Charlie comes from the privileged background with which Oxford is stereotypically associated, Fred grew up poor with a single mother, and has a real fear of not fitting in in his new environment. The only thing the five have in common is a desperate desire to be “a blue”  -- to fight a varsity bout for the University.