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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Halle Berry
scr Michelle Rosenfarb
prd Basil Iwanyk, Brad Feinstein, Guymon Casady, Linda Gottlieb, Halle Berry
with Halle Berry, Sheila Atim, Adan Canto, Adriane Lenox, Danny Boyd Jr, Shamier Anderson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Valentina Shevchenko, Lela Loren, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Jennifer Chieng, Denny Dillon
release US 17.Nov.21,
TORONTO FILM FEST
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Opening with a visceral depiction of the brutality of mixed martial arts, this gritty drama launches into a familiar story of loss and redemption, complete with heightened emotions and nonstop melodrama. With her directing debut, Halle Berry dives into the trashy grisliness with gusto, both as a filmmaker and actor. But the film looks so grubby that it's not easy to watch, and the overlong, cliche-filled plot never surprises.
After a particularly harsh loss, Jackie (Berry) has given up fighting and taken a job as a cleaner, although her violent boyfriend-manager Desi (Canto) wants her back in the cage. Then high-powered manager Immaculate (Anderson) offers her a path back in if she'll work with no-nonsense trainer Buddhakan (Atim) at a gym owned by the veteran Pops (Henderson). Meanwhile, Jackie's drugged-up mother (Lenox) drops off her traumatised 6-year-old son Manny (Boyd). And while she tries to sort out her home life, Jackie must also train for a battle against the fearsome Lady Killer (Shevchenko).
At its core, this is a story about a woman getting her personal life back on track, reconnecting with her son and escaping from various abusive relationships. Rosenfarb's script co-opts every fight movie trope, from the training montages to standard hard-life details. Each expected obstacle comes along right on cue, which means that all of the characters like people we've seen before: desperate, cruel, swaggering or pathetic as required. They're also deeply flawed, which makes them more involving than expected.
Berry's performance is so full-on that Jackie feels genuinely out of control, even as she reveals a steely focus under the surface. The other cast members are somewhat underused. Antim is electric as the Zen-like trainer who addresses the real issues in Jackie's life; her scenes with the magnetic Boyd are particularly engaging. Anderson brings his presence to bear as the confident Immaculate, who has his own agenda. And Canto, Lenox and Henderson add some nice textures to their deeply troubled characters.
After a full hour of rather obvious set-up, the film eventually clicks into gear when Jackie finally stops enduring Desi's thuggish violence and begins preparing for her savage climactic fight. As Jackie starts to heal, she is able to face her life more thoughtfully, without panicking, and the clarity makes her much more compelling as a character. This helps Berry infuse the final act with some fierce female energy that just about manages to pound the simplistic script into the mat.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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