Bruiser explores how an unreconciled past can destroy a brighter future in a refreshingly quiet and emotionally complicated tale.

Film Review: Bruiser

Film Reviews

Director: Miles Warren

Ryder Picture Company
Streaming: 02.24

When ghosts from one’s past come knocking at the door, it’s easy to regress into a former version of oneself, even if it is at the expense of the life you’ve worked hard to build. Bruiser begins when 13-year-old Darious (Jalyn Hall) returns home from a pricey boarding school. The moody teen has a strong connection with his mother, Monica (Shinelle Azoroh), who teaches violin from home, and a more stilted relationship with his father, Malcolm (Shamier Anderson), a hard-working and dedicated car salesman. Feeling largely alienated by his childhood friends who seem to have changed since his return, Darious happens upon the riverboat-dwelling, Tai Chi–practicing Porter (Trevante Rhodes), an undeniably affable and charismatic man with whom Darious feels an instant connection.

Not too long after this introduction, we find out through Monica and Malcolm that Porter is Darious’s biological father who has been absent in the interceding 13 years. Porter now wants to be in Darious’s life, and Malcolm vehemently objects as the former represents a part of the latter’s life that he wants to leave behind. The fact that Darious instantly feels such a strong connection with Porter clearly rattles Malcolm. 

Bruiser is as much about the conflict between Malcolm and Porter as it is about Darious’s internal, coming-of-age struggles with his own identity and his relationship to the two men. Both men have complicated, violent pasts that they’ve sought to overcome in their own ways; both men subconsciously seek to live vicariously through Darious, viewing him as a sort of redemption for the sins they’ve committed in their pasts. 

With the static camera and decision to block the characters within the confines of the boxy 4:3 Academy Ratio, cinematographer Justin Derry and Warren do everything they can to spotlight the performances within the frame, all of which are strong. Warren and the performers avoid what could have been tropey character archetypes—the stuffy middle-class father and the edgy drifter—and color them with more nuance than these types of characters typically get.

The central tragedy of Bruiser is that Darious becomes a casualty in the proxy war that Malcolm and Porter wage on each other through their son. As the plot unfolds, the film begins to sideline Darious as the animus between Malcolm and Porter manifests. Another unfortunate casualty is Monica, who I wish had a little more to do in the movie given the conclusion the film comes to about Darious’s relationship with his mother. 

The irony of both the story and the movie is that the attention slowly shifts away from Darious: the boy who was the central character at the beginning of the movie is another bystander by its end. Despite this, the film’s conclusions about how an unreconciled past can destroy a brighter future are explored in a refreshingly quiet and interesting way. With Bruiser, Warren comes through with a strong, sensitive and emotionally complicated feature debut. –Brandon Ermer

Read more reviews of movies with children dealing with strained parent relationships:
Film Review: The Son
Film Review: Pivot Pals