Brawler (R)

Drama 85 September 13, 2012
By Chuck Wilson
"Cock-fighting on the Mississippi" is what one trainer in this surprisingly potent melodrama calls the brutal cage-fighting competitions that Charlie Fontaine (Nathan Grubbs) and his younger brother Bobby (Marc Senter) enter every week aboard a floating New Orleans riverboat. The brothers relish the mix of boxing, martial arts, and just plain viciousness that make them rulers of their seedy realm. Charlie is wise enough to retire after injuring his knee, but Bobby is fatally drawn to trouble—with mobsters, street thugs, and finally, with Charlie himself, who vows to beat his little brother to death—in the ring—after catching him in his wife's arms. Because Grubbs and Senter, who co-produced, are handsome and muscled, writer-director Chris Sivertson keeps them as perpetually half-naked as possible, yet Bobby's sweaty, mint julep seduction of Charlie's skimpily clad wife (Pell James) plays like bad cable soft-core. That protracted bit of plot awkwardness ultimately proves forgivable as Sivertson, aided by Zoran Popovic's superb photography and Tim Rutili's pulsating score, sends the boys into a final cage fight that is more jarring for its emotional impact rather than its violence. Playing for keeps, Grubbs and Senter let their eyes tell a story more painful than any punch.
Chris Sivertson Bryan Batt, Marc Senter, Nathan Grubbs, Pell James, Michael Bowen, Lance E. Nichols, Bliss Kelley, Garrett Hines, Lawrence Turner, Megan Henning Chris Sivertson, Nathan Grubbs Nathan Grubbs, Marc Senter XLrator Media


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