Embattled (2020) is an IFC Films release using the backdrop of the world of Professional Mixed Martial Arts to contrast the lives and moral fiber of two Professional MMA fighters who are father and son.
While Stephen Dorf is the central focus of the film and the catalyst for much of the drama, it is Darren Mann, playing Dorf’s eldest son, that is the real star. Mann gives a compelling and endearing performance as a son trying to break a legacy of dysfunction and domestic abuse while confronting his very conflicted feelings about his father, an MMA legend.
There are many films, martial arts and otherwise, where the star is a complex anti-hero. In these films the flawed main character has certain qualities that make the audience sympathetic, despite his many shortcomings. Dorf’s character lacks any such redemptive characteristics. This is not to knock the actor’s performance, which is always gritty and engaging; however, the character is simply a misogynistic, homophobic, child abusing bully that is easy to route against. The elder Boykins is easy to hate.
The film is engaging and disturbing, all at the same time. I found the complexity and the humanity of both, Elizabeth Reaser and Karrueche Tran’s, performances to be some of the highlights of the film. It would have been easy to have Tran’s character portrayed as the two dimensional, trophy wife, but her heartfelt performance may serve as the conscience of the film.
Dorf’s physique and physical condition has been the subject of much discussion. He looks the part, both in and out of the cage. The film’s fight scenes are decent, although largely reserved for the last 30 minutes of the film. The film is littered with familiar faces from the world of MMA.
While this film is not of the caliber of Tom Hardy’s Warrior (2012), it is worth checking out.
Available in theaters and digital formats
Production companies: Wild League Productions, La Costa Productions, Blitz Films
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Darren Mann, Colin McKenna, Karrueche Tran, Donald Faison, Ava Capri, Said Taghmaoui, Elizabeth Reaser, Leopold Manswell, Mimi Davila
Director: Nick Sarkisov
Screenwriter: David McKenna
Producers: Eryl Cochran, Scott LaStaiti, Sergey Sarkisov
Executive producers: Nick Sarkisov, Frank Ragen, Stephen Dorff, Colleen Camp, Rhys Coiro
Director of photography: Paul Ozgur
Production designer: Michael T. Perry
Editor: Mark Sanger
Composer: Michael Brook
Costume designer: Megan Spatz
Casting: Samy Burch
–by Marc Zirogiannis, November 24, 2020 (NYC)