Quick synopsis: In this thriller by Josef Kubota Wladyka, a boxer (Kali Reis) embarks on the fight of her life when she goes undercover in a sex trafficking operation to seek revenge for the disappearance of her sister
You often get a sense that a film “belongs” to someone. Usually, that’s the director. Kubota Wladyka did a great job here. He has a background in television, but the television he’s worked on has included such critically acclaimed series as The Terror and Narcos, so, despite the fact this is his feature debut, it’s not exactly unexpected that he managed to do such a good job of framing the urban decay and human apathy in this world. He also wrote the script, and some of the dialogue in this is painful, in a good way. He has a talent for exploring humanity, knowing what people go through during painful moments. He knows the kind of things people say in stressful situations, and more importantly, what they don’t say. There’s a scene where Reis’s character gets kidnapped and it’s one of the best kidnapping scenes I’ve seen. There are no audio cues to warn you what will happen. There’s zero visual indication of what’s about to happen, which makes sense as that doesn’t really happen in real life. It’s unexpected, as it should be.
Despite that, it’s not his film. I know that from what I’ve said so far, it should be, but the whole thing really belongs to Kali Reis. Considering this is her first role, she does a PHENOMENAL job, possibly one of the best acting debuts I’ve ever seen. She’s also responsible for the story. You can tell it’s one that’s deeply personal to her. She’s an active supporter of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement. That comes through in the story being told, the whole thing is basically “This shit needs to fucking stop!”. It’s personal, it’s passionate, and it’s fucking angry (as it should be).
You are slightly misled by the synopsis and the trailer, this is not a boxing movie, in fact, that aspect barely comes up (but is a good thing to keep in mind during the fight scenes). This is not a high-octane thriller like Taken. This is the cinematic equivalent of tooth extraction in slow motion. You know what you’re going through is painful, and it’s slow, but you do it in the hope that at the end the pain will be gone and it will all be worth it. There’s a scene where the main character waterboards someone (after threatening to cut off his wife’s ear). In a standard action movie, this would be the moment where the person being tortured gives up information which then leads to the hero saving the day. In this? The guy dies without giving up any information, because torture doesn’t fucking work no matter what movies which are coincidentally funded by the US military tell you.
It’s not a nice film, but it would be weird if a film about this subject was nice. It’s realistic, and that’s why it’s so painful. When a character says that “nobody is looking because nobody cares”, it hits deep because you know it’s true, there’s a reason Missing White Women Syndrome is a thing. When a sex trafficker describes a 29-year-old as “too old”, it disgusts you because you know that’s how people like him (and his customers) think.
That I feel is its biggest weakness, it’s unrelentingly bleak and uneasy to get through. But it could have been fixed if they changed the ending. I don’t mean to give it a happy ending full of unicorns and happiness as tonally that would be a complete mess. I’m talking about the ending credits. When a TV show handles certain subjects they often have someone at the end say “and if you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this programme tonight, resources to help are available at…….”. Something like that at the end could have improved it. Not a voiceover, as that would be weird. But if it went to the credits, and instead of just standard credits it started with a fact-sheet about the issues raised in the film, and lists of websites and resources which help, it would add a little something. At the moment you’re left with a “fuck, that’s terrible. There’s nothing we can do” feeling when the film ends, whereas if they provided resource links to websites and organisations at the end, then it could inspire people to help out. It could have been important and changed lives, instead of just INCREDIBLY impactful.
The other downside? Her being a boxer doesn’t play as big a part in it as it could. Also, there’s a really intense scene of her and her mother having an argument about guilt and recovery. It’s a brilliantly written scene, but it’s not really followed up on. I wouldn’t cut it though, mainly because of how good it is, but also the scene leading into it of her mother leading a missing persons group has some of the best moments, moments which say a lot about masculinity and responsibility. Such a brilliant scene and it deserves to be followed up in someway.
So in summary, I would highly recommend seeing this. You won’t enjoy it, but you will be changed by it.