Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10)
Toxic masculinity has become a common theme in movies in recent years, and this offering examines the subject through the lens of physical violence, especially as it is expressed through generational recurrence. Writer-director Miles Warren’s debut feature explores this topic through a domestic drama involving an African-American teen (Jalyn Hall) who visits his family while on summer vacation from his private boarding school. In addition to spending time with his parents (Shamier Anderson, Shinelle Azoroh), he inadvertently meets a friendly, if unconventional stranger (Trevante Rhodes) who turns out to be the biological father who abandoned him years before. This chance encounter, in turn, stirs up unresolved issues between the two men who were once good friends and who now vie for the adolescent’s attention and loyalty, setting bad examples in the process, particularly when it comes to handling difficult situations. And caught in the middle are the young man and his mother, who try desperately to smooth over matters under increasingly dire conditions. Needless to say, the tension is palpable as matters play out, aptly showing how certain destructive behaviors are learned and transferred from one generation to the next, often in unrecognized ways by those passing along these unfortunate “lessons.” While the central theme of this gripping story is patently obvious, the narrative nevertheless keeps viewers guessing all along the way about what’s coming next, successfully holding attention well, despite some deliberately slow pacing that’s designed to keep the pot simmering. This is all helped along well by the fine portrayals of the four principals, especially Independent Spirit Award nominee Rhodes, as well as the truly charismatic Hall, who delivers yet another excellent performance, again demonstrating talent well beyond his years. “Bruiser” may not have received much fanfare, but this absorbing yet troubling online release sends a potent message about what we teach our kids and the consequences of those actions.