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N.O. Film Fest First Look: Brawler

The locally-shot feature-length drama, Brawler, is all decay and redemption, but there isn't any reference to flood or FEMA. Instead, director Chris Siverston trains his lens  on the New Orleans underbelly that might have been identified with New Orleans' past. The world of the film's backroom fighting club (Don't worry, there is no Jack) takes place in backrooms, on Mississippi River boats and in buildings with unglamorous facades.


Still, with references slipped in like Bar Tonique and the presence of local notable Bryan Batt, the movie is a little self conscious about trying to make you think the plot could be unravelling across town. In a film culture where references are badges of honor, the New Orleans reverence here is nowhere near Simon. The design is to keep the movie in the present, not give shoutouts.


That leaves room for the plot, and some exceptional turns of filmmaking. Brothers Charlie and Bobby Fontaine are the sons of a local boxing legend. But they've earned their stripes in an underground fight community that holds bouts on a Misssissippi boat. Charlie is the star of this backbarge, but an injury while defending his brother from a group of attackers puts the pair on a crash course that will play itself out in the ring.


Even though Brawler is a fight film, the big highlight is not the action, but the moments of suspense. Using a combination of triggerman jump cuts and agonizing pacing, two of the film's crucial scenes manage to send the mind through a ringer of certainty, doubt and, more than a little dread. One of these scenes features two people about to make love. Severe consequences that will come from this act heighten the tension. But shadowy lighting and a frantic soundtrack are the real elements that makes the spine tingle.



The high style manages to move the film through some patches of stilted line delivery, and those nagging New Orleans references - which do occasionally cross the line into overuse. The film also threatens to move into Bon Temps territory, as the characters are frequently depicted shirtless, or unbuttoned - just for the heck of it. Siverston and his team spare us from overindulgence - by a hair - thanks to the city's notorious summers. Sweat is once again proven to be the great equalizer, and the film's ever-present sheen gives another dimension to muscles and skin that move the visual trope away from the pornographic.


And there is the eventual conclusion. Despite all the depictions of beautiful people, Brawler ends with the two brothers, bloodied and beaten, starting at each other through the bulletproof glass of the jailhouse. They are ghoulish enough to belong with suspenseful music that surrounded their actions earlier in the film. And, for once, it seems, they can see each other.


Brawler screens at the National World War II Museum on Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m. For ticket info, visit the NOFF website.

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

Published Daily