Embattled is a surprisingly moving and engaging family drama set in and around the world of MMA fighting. It follows a formerly estranged father and son as they try to advance the son’s career as an MMA fighter, following in the footsteps of his father. But their old emotional wounds have not fully healed and the tension between them increases as they agree to a marketing stunt pitting the two against each other in the MMA cage. It is a climactic showdown that even I was drawn into and I am not typically a fan of MMA fighting.
Stephen Dorff (Blade) stars as the father, Cash, an MMA champion with a dark past that he channeled into his fighting career. A few years after a bitter divorce, Cash has reconnected with his 18-year-old son, Jett (Darren Mann, Giant Little Ones, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), who is looking to make his own mark in MMA fighting. While Cash is enjoying his wealthy MMA champion lifestyle, Jett and his family are struggling to make ends meet, receiving little-to-no help from Cash, though Cash’s new wife might have something to say about that. Among Jett’s family, is Cash’s second born son, Quinn (newcomer Colin McKenna), who was born with Williams Syndrome. Behind the scenes side note for anyone wondering: the actor playing Quinn, writer David McKenna’s son Colin, does have Williams Syndrome. Fans of the tv series Scrubs, like myself, may enjoy seeing Donald Faison as Quinn’s teacher.
Crammed into the nearly two-hour runtime, director Nick Sarkisov and writer David McKenna deliver a well-crafted narrative with compelling and dramatic stories about family, friendship, inclusion and equality, love, grief, and breaking a cycle of abuse with goodness. For the most part, it did not feel like an MMA movie, though it did have plenty of well-choreographed fight scenes, including a climactic showdown between father and son just as the emotional wounds from their past are freshly reopened (the fight is so brutal that I started to wonder if one or both characters was going to die). The production was aided by real-world MMA fighters, like Kenny Florian and Tyron Woodley (in all honesty, I pulled these names from press notes and have no idea who they are). I was captivated by Jett’s relationships with his parents, brother, and people at school. There are signs that the cycle of abuse might continue through Jett, but some of his relationships try to pull him back from that brink.
Overall, I would highly recommend this film, though not so much for younger audiences. The only real issue I might have would be the excessive “foul” language; a few minutes into the movie I was ready to tune out, but as the characters started to develop and the stories expanded, the language started to fit and almost fade into the story.