Saturday, November 21, 2020

EMBATTLED: Nick Sarkisov & David McKenna's ode to abuse -- whether via family or MMA

Fans of Mixed martial arts (MMA) are likely to be most interested in the new film EMBATTLED, even though the movie also concerns itself with everything from family, feuding, abuse, raising a "special needs" child, betrayal, blackmail, and oh gosh, a lot more, too. But it's the abuse -- in the ring and out of it -- that quickly becomes the movie's main theme, driving it ever forward.

As directed by Nick Sarkisov (shown below), from a screenplay by David McKenna, the film traces the history of two MMA fighters, hunky and nasty current world champion (in one of those lesser-weight categories) Cash Boykins and his even hunkier (but much nicer) son, Jett, who is just now coming into his own as a fighter.

main reason for even viewing the movie (he is no fan of MMA) is two of its stars: Stephen Dorff, who plays Cash, and Elizabeth Reaser, who takes the role of Cash's very put-upon ex-wife. 

Both actors never disappoint: Dorff, shown below, excels at playing assholes (he's got one hell of role here) and he's also fine at managing the beleaguered hero (see Brake, if you need any proof), while Reaser, though rarely getting the kind of starring role she deserves, is one of those empathetic actresses you simply go with, hook, line and sinker.

But since this is, first to last, a man's movie, the female roles are relegated to second class, if that, and Ms Reaser, shown two photos down, does what she can within the limitations given her.

The movie's "rising star" would be the young man who play's Cash's son, Darren Mann (two photos below), who acquits himself well as the sweet kid who cares for his handicapped brother, while trying to look out for his mom, get passing grades in school, and train to finally beat down his shitty dad who, even in the eyes of his current wife, is a real horror.

For an MMA movie, Embattled doesn't overly revel in the violence and blood -- though what's there is certainly plenty.  The fight scenes are staged well, and even the final showdown, which does go on for a lengthy while, spares us some of the usual in-your-face gore (oddly, the fighters throughout the film seem to recover a bit too quickly from facial injuries).

Embattled skips along and over its family problems a little too easily (the fights are the point here), though director Sarkisov does toss in a scene of remarkable power midway through the film, as dad's abuse and son's memory of it collide in some very well constructed moments that combine remembering and experiencing in a manner that hits home just about perfectly.

Performances are good all around (supporting characters are nicely drawn), the dialog is adequate and sometimes smart, and the direction is never less than serviceable and often more than that.  But while the film tries to makes its characters full-bodied, by trying to have things both ways -- dad's abusive, yes, but he also cares -- it mostly succeeds at watering down the important stuff to the level of cliché. Watch it, if you're so inclined, for the fight scenes.

From IFC Films and running a lengthy 117 minutes, Embattled opened in theaters and virtually yesterday, Friday, November 20. Click here for more information.

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