Raised by an abusive father, Cash (Stephen Dorff) channels his aggression to become a World Champion MMA fighter. Now accustomed to wealth, adulation and global popularity, he faces a new challenge when his second son is born with Williams Syndrome. But this time, rather than stand and fight, he runs. While Cash continues to make his fortune in the ring, his eldest son Jett (Darren Mann) becomes the caregiver to his younger brother Quinn (Colin McKenna). When Jett decides to follow his father’s fighting footsteps and take to the fight game, he faces his past head on, embarking on a course inevitably pitting father versus son in a battle which, no matter the outcome, neither can win.
We open with a battle between two men who noticeably hate each other’s guts. The fight ended quickly as we see Cash destroy his opponent and celebrate with his son. Our relationship with Cash and his son is rocky, he wants to be just like his dad, but at the same time, he is hard on him and doesn’t take it easy on him at all.
Next, we understand that Cash and Susan’s relationship ended ugly, she accused him of abuse, and he denies it. Susan struggles to take care of the bills, and Cash refuses to help, regardless of whether he is a millionaire. Jeff struggles because his brother is special needs, and he has to take care of him, train to be a fighter like his dad (who is rough on him) all and go to school at the same time; life isn’t easy.
Although Cash isn’t a great person, Jeff still idolizes him, and we can all relate to that. We grow up and want to be like our father or mother, and we want to walk in their shoes, be like them, emulate the things they do, especially in cases like this, where sports are involved, and often it’s despite the character flaws they might have.
As the film progresses, the internal struggle of wanting to be like his dad and remembering flashbacks when he was a kid is starting to take a toll on Jeff. It leads us to a pivotal moment in the movie. Jeff goes after his dad, which leads to a match between the two.
We have several moments that cause the movie to drag a bit. In the transition between the first and second acts and the second to the third, we see a bit of dead weight that could’ve been edited to make the film crisper.
The hatred between the two has been built up to this moment, father and son, mano a mano, the intensity is strong, and director Nick Sarkisov has done a great job of angling the shots here within the ring and allow us to feel like we are in this battle with these two.
Last, will we ever be able to walk in the shoes of our father? Maybe not, but it shouldn’t be the walk that defines us.
Stephen Dorr and Darren Mann make this film what it is with their ’embattled’ relationship as Cash and Jett. Dorr is incredible as the asshole dad who gives no fucks, and Mann plays off of that well. The banter between the two has more power because they make it feel like they want to rip each other’s heads up.
Sarkisov’s best work comes while we are in the ring. While in the octagon, the camera work puts us in the fighter’s shoes and enhances the viewing experience.
Embattled shows us that a family can often lead us down the wrong path no matter the circumstances.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.