Bruiser (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A young black man between two fathers

“Bruiser”, which is currently available on Disney+ in South Korea, is a familiar but engaging coming-of-age drama to be appreciated for good reasons. Although it stumbles a bit during its last act, the movie still holds our attention thanks to its competent direction and compelling performances, and it works as an interesting character drama about father and son relationship.

Jayln Hall, a young actor who recently made a lasting impression on us via his haunting supporting turn in Chinonye Chukwu’s harrowing drama film “Till” (2022), plays Darius, an African American middle-class teenager who returns to home from some prestigious private school as summer begins. Although he is not particularly excited about spending the summer at his home, Darius is fine to be with his parents Malcolm (Shamier Anderson) and Monica (Shinelle Azoroh), and there is a little warm moment as Monica lets her son have a bit of driving lesson while they are coming back to their home.

In contrast, Malcolm is not exactly warm or considerate to his son, though it is clear that, like Monica, he has done his best for raising their son together for years. He works as a used car salesman, and he is certainly proud of how he has supported his family for himself, though there comes a problem involved with the tuition for his son’s private school. Just because he believes he can take care of this problem alone, he does not tell anything to his son or his wife, and that makes his situation all the more stressful while there is no one to talk with him about that.

Meanwhile, Darius comes to have his own problem. On one day, he goes outside for hanging around with his childhood friends, and then he happens to fight with one of them just for a petty matter. Feeling quite humiliated about being beaten a lot, he eventually goes away, and that is how he comes to meet some guy living on a boat on the nearby river. Although this guy is a total stranger to him, Darius soon finds himself telling a lot about himself to this guy, and he also seems to be interested in befriending Darius.

Not so surprisingly, this guy turns out to be an old friend of Darius’ parents. Many years ago, Porter (Trevante Rhodes) was their best friend, but he left them without saying anything when Darius was born, although he is, yes, Darius’ biological father. After living here and there outside his hometown during next several years, he returned to his hometown at last, and, after meeting Darius, he soon contacts with Malcolm and Monica, who are understandably not so pleased about their old friend’s return.

What follows next is a tense meeting scene between Darius’ parents and their old friend. Porter says he simply wants to get to know his biological son more, so he requests the permission to be officially introduced to Darius, but Malcolm refuses because he is still angry and resentful for some old issues between him and Porter. Even when Monica tries to persuade him later, he is adamant about his position, and that certainly causes a strain on their long relationship.

Anyway, Malcolm and Monica later tell Darius about who Porter is, and Darius becomes more interested in Porter because, well, Porter is much easier for him to hang around with compared to Malcolm as your average carefree drifter. Shortly after clashing with Malcolm at one point, Darius instantly goes to Porter, and Porter is certainly glad to spend more time with his biological son, though their good time at a nearby amusement part does not end well when Darius’ parents finally come to take him back to their home.

This is indeed a typical family conflict we saw from many other similar films before, but the screenplay by director Miles Warren and his co-writer Ben Medina brings considerable depth and sensitivity to its story and characters besides specific details including the race of its main characters. While Darius’s conflict on how to be a man is the main center of the story, the conflict between Malcolm and Porter turns out to be a bit more complex than expected, and Monica provides a little female perspective at the fringe of the story, though she is rather underdeveloped compared to the three other main characters in the film.

Although the film becomes quite contrived during the last act where its main characters are driven further to more conflict, we still care about what is happening among its main characters thanks to the diligent efforts from its main cast members. Hall is believable in his character’s emotional struggle over the story, and that surely confirms his considerable potential and talent to us again. With Hall steadily occupying the middle spot, Shamier Anderson, who recently appeared in “John Wick: Chapter 4” (2022) as one of key supporting characters, and Trevante Rhodes, who also participated in the production of the film, are intense in each own way as their respective characters constantly clash with each other throughout the story, and Shinelle Azoroh brings some life and personality to her rather thankless supporting role.

On the whole, “Bruiser” succeeds as much as intended despite its several weak aspects, and Warren, who previously directed several short films, made a fairly commendable feature film debut here. This is surely a conventional stuff, but it is still interesting to watch for its strong elements including good performances to be savored, and I sincerely recommend you to give it a chance someday.

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