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1 review, 2 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"The month's boxing brothers hail from New Orleans."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It seems as though there's been a recent run of "brothers who are also fighters" movies lately, all claiming to be based on true events (though sometimes loosely, as in this case), and it's not a bad template: There's a built-in story structure and climax, and brothers can be close without innuendo. "Brawler" is a solid example of the genre, although its indie roots means it may not get the attention of its own more-hyped siblings.

Like their father before them, Charlie Fontaine (Nathan Grubbs) and his younger brother Bobby (Marc Senter) are fighters - Charlie's more the old-school boxer, while Bobby throws in some mixed martial arts - who ply their trade in literally floating establishments (barges near their New Orleans home). Charlie has a steady girlfriend, Kat (Pell James), and is otherwise pretty grounded, while Bobby suffers from the combination of ambition and impatience that tends land him in trouble. His latest screw-up sucks Charlie in, and the injury pushes Charlie out of the fight game. One would hope that would make Bobby take stock, but of course it just slows him down for a bit. The question, then, is whether he'll destroy himself or his relationship with his brother first, and if there's any way to stop it.

The rest of the story's broad strokes fill themselves in, to an extent - the local gangsters, the trainer who's like a surrogate father to the brothers, the way Bobby screws things up worse even when an attack of conscience leads to him doing the right thing. It's the finer details that help make things interesting - for example, the gangsters' disdain for the more violent aspects of their job, and the way Bobby finds he's apparently not quite enough of a punk to do it for them. Or how the New Orleans setting is a an integral part of the picture without being the film going out of its way to point it out.

Similarly, the way things play out between Kat and the brothers is fairly predictable but also well-done. Marc Senter makes Bobby cocky and charismatic enough to make his constant screwing up seem like a real waste; he's a hot-blooded guy who thinks he's cool. Senter has a great handle on how to play off everybody in each scene, making for an impressively three-dimensional performance. Nathan Grubbs anchors the movie on the other end, offering up a fine portrayal of a guy who, even when angry, is always going to return to a more forgiving place; Grubbs make it look like gravity. And while Pell James's performance as Kat is a bit more theatrical than what Senter and Grubbs do, it's an allowable broadness, given the character; we get her.

For a small movie, Brawler is rather nicely polished. The title promises fighting, and while it's not actually the main point of the movie, writer/director Chris Siverston doesn't slack there: Senter gives every indication of having some genuine skills as Bobby, and Grubbs isn't bad either. Though Siverston and cinematographer Xoran Popovic likely shot many of the fight-club scenes on dry land, they feel like they're on a ship, and New Orleans looks great (even an excursion to touristy Bourbon Street has a vibe of being from the working-class native's perspective). The music is a particular standout, with the score by Tim Rutili and songs by Howlin Rain favoring blues & bluegrass a bit more than the jazz that the city is noted for.

Boxer/brother movies like this one tend to run along a certain path, and "Brawler" admittedly doesn't stray that far from it. It's smooth going, though, and gets enough little things right that I found myself entertained and impressed even though the genre isn't a particular favorite of mine. That's generally a good sign; hopefully this one will have a chance to emerge from the shadows cast by better-funded recent movies.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22625&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/02/11 09:49:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

9/27/11 N04 Convincing acting from both Senter and Grubbs, draws you into the dark side of New Orleans. 4 stars
9/20/11 rob rota senter ruins the whole movie with his lack of acting styles that he always over uses 1 stars
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