‘Bruiser’ Review: Of Fathers and Fractures

A teenage boy is caught between the man who raised him and a new guiding figure in this affecting study of masculinity and coming of age.

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By Brandon Yu

Three figures lie on the grass, their bodies splayed out as if unconscious, before one of them, the smallest of the trio, gets up and leaves. The shot, fading in at the start of “Bruiser,” is a visual metaphor of sorts — the image never recurs in the film, but serves as a tableau for this affecting study of masculinity, fatherhood and coming of age.

A confident feature debut from the director Miles Warren, who adapted it with Ben Medina from a short film of the same name, the movie begins with the return of 14-year-old Darious (Jalyn Hall) from his new boarding school. He struggles to adjust, gets into a fight with a friend and, wanting to learn to protect himself, turns to Porter (Trevante Rhodes), a stranger he meets in the woods. We eventually learn that Porter grew up with Darious’s parents, Malcolm (Shamier Anderson) and Monica (Shinelle Azoroh), and in turn shares a complicated past with Darious.

The connection that’s revealed about this man of the woods sounds more contrived on paper than in the film, which is buoyed by an often arresting score and strong performances from its cast, including the newcomer Hall. Warren uses an assured hand in treating the family melodrama with the tenderness of a tone poem. For most of the film, he avoids painting in broad strokes while ratcheting up the conflict between Porter, a tattooed veteran living on a boat, and the bespectacled, seemingly upright Malcolm.

The two men’s rivalry becomes more of a struggle with the dark past they share and with how the terms of manhood often manifest in violence and domination. (These ideas take a somewhat uncreative, heavy-handed turn at the climax, though Warren partly justifies that approach by the end.) Darious ends up caught in the middle — it’s up to him to decide if he can get up and walk in a different direction.

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. Watch on Hulu.

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