A Tender Debut About Fathers, Sons and Masculinity – The Hollywood Reporter

Miles Warren’s Narrative Debut Bruiser A restrained consideration of familiar premises. Two men with a shared history want respect, approval and affection, but the suffocating limits of hyper-masculinity prevent them from asking for it. Instead they fight for supremacy, a quest that plagues their journey with an influx of violence. Warren is keenly interested in trying to understand this path, depicting what cruelty does to individuals and their communities.

Bruiser Describes the tumultuous summer between 7Th and 8Th Grade to Darius (Jalin Hall of until), a restless teenager struggling with adulthood and life in a sleepy suburb. His mother, Monica (Shinelle Azoroh), spends most of her days at home giving private violin lessons, while his father, Malcolm (Shamier Anderson), sells cars at his dealership. With both his parents working, Darius doesn’t know what to do with his old friends since he started attending boarding school.

Bruiser

The bottom line

A smooth and compelling spin on a familiar story.

Cast: Trevente Rhodes, Shamier Anderson, Jalin Hall, Shinelle Azoroh
Director: Miles Warren
Screenwriter: Miles Warren, Ben Medina

1 hour 37 minutes

Written by Warren and Ben Medina, the film, which will screen at AFI Fest after its TIFF premiere, begins as a sweet observation of Darius’ fraught relationships with his neighbors, his parents and his peers. Cinematographer Justin Derry builds an arresting visual language from the first scene, in which we see Monica picking up Darius from school. There is a combination effect of softness, unobtrusive intimacy, close-ups and scenes bathed in caramelized light to each moment.

On the car ride home, Darius puts his earbuds in rather than answering his mother’s questions about his school crush or the car stereo blasting Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee.” (The song is an aural feature throughout the film.) The teenage mood is initially conflicted, but Hall’s performance — marked by slightly hunched shoulders, an averted gaze, and a soft voice — slowly reveals that petulance is a sign of complexity. and tense emotional interiority.

Darius, like most people his age, struggles to identify and express his feelings. His efforts translate into silence (like in the car with mom) or temper tantrums. After a fight with an old friend, Darius runs into the woods and stumbles upon a docked boathouse. Its owner, a stoic, muscular man, watches silently as a bloody-lipped teenager washes his face with stream water before approaching. A direct exchange — punctuated by deliberate but awkward silences — piques Darius’ curiosity about this mysterious man named Porter (the excellent Trevante Rhodes).

Rhodes’ on-screen appearance naturally invites comparison Moonlight, Barry Jenkins’ tender coming-of-age film similarly negotiates the rules of masculinity. But but Moonlight Overtly grappled with sexuality and queer identity formation, Bruiser Strictly observes paternal ties. Darius returns to the Porter’s house more often during the summer, finding it easier to confide in him than in his parents. A young teenager admits to feeling insecure, worried that his girlfriend at school doesn’t like him anymore, and feeling disconnected from his father.

Porter listens to Darius and only occasionally advises the young man. Porter is no stranger – to Darius or his family as will soon become clear. The revelation is not shocking, and Bruiser does not properly dwell on its truth. Instead, the film considers its aftermath: how Darius is caught between Porter and Malcolm, who were best friends before their mutual hatred melted away. When Porter asks Malcolm and Monica to be in Darius’s life, Malcolm refuses to get involved. The latter cannot get over Porter’s mistakes, and makes it clear to his old friend that he does not trust him.

Men represent two sides of the same coin. They both struggle with emotional control and self-expression — but while Porter is honest about his challenges, Malcolm clings to respectability as a shield. Warren and Medina’s screenplay edges toward cliché, but avoids dwelling on that territory by building on the inner lives of these two men. Instead of relying on narrative speeches, Warren experimented with staging, camera angles, lighting, and music to highlight Porter and Malcolm’s differences and similarities. Occasionally, Bruiser Robert Ouyang leans heavily on Rusley’s beautifully sonorous score, but the effort to connect the visual vocabulary to the auditory one is welcome.

Performances will eventually set Bruiser Warren’s prowess as a director aside from the debut and signal. It is a film that takes place through the dialogue between three central figures: Darius, Porter and Malcolm. Hall, Rhodes and Anderson give great performances that allow their characters to fulfill their symbolic functions without losing their dimension. Their exchange is laced with the pain of old wounds and the promise of future forgiveness. We understand how these relationships are evolving through how actors position their bodies, look at (or don’t look at) each other when characters are most vulnerable, or how their voices change when they try to perform rather than engage. That kind of care and detail creates an investment in the story and the people who populate it, keeping us hooked and wondering about their decisions even after the credits roll.

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