Nail has a good grip of atmosphere, immersing his audience into the despondent lives of the crooks and shadesters, who spend their days slacking or hustling in Frank’s motel. In fact, Bruiser brings to mind The Florida Project, in which a hotel setting served as a similar festering pit of hopelessness, a backdrop against which the story unraveled. The filmmaker skillfully navigates his way through tricky scenes that could have easily slipped into gratuitousness, such as when Jack gets stabbed in the chest, and Frank casually stitches him up; or when Jack beats a customs inspector to a pulp with brass knuckles, then makes him sign a document. But Nail also knows when to let tenderness in, like when Jack gives a young girl his headphones.
Dustin Whitehead is mesmerizing, completely inhabiting Jack, from the small mannerisms that imply hidden depths to unexpected outbursts of violence or kindness. If nothing else, Bruiser serves as an excellent showcase for the talented actor. He’s not the only one who stands out though, Nail displaying a knack for working with an ensemble cast. Jeff Benninghofen is a livewire as the sleazy Harry, relishing lines like, “I told her, ‘You don’t like NASCAR, are you kidding me? Get out of my cart!'” A special mention should go to Troy Norton, playing Mr. Sneed, a Bible and insurance salesman, who deservedly gets prolonged screen time in a seemingly unrelated sequence.
“Some scenes run too long, while others are not long enough.”
As a conceptually and thematically sound narrative, Bruiser is rough around the edges. Some scenes run too long, while others are not long enough. I wish that Jon Mark Nail spent less time on an underdeveloped, ultimately silly subplot involving a character called The Time Keepin’ Man (a strained performance by Colin Wasmund), who offs his victims in search of Jack and the cargo. If he’d stuck to delving deeper into the trials and tribulations of his tragic characters or spent just a tad more time exploring the relationship between Jack and his, ahem, cargo, he might have really been onto something here.
Nail gets a lot of things right, but Bruiser doesn’t leave us as bruised as some of its superior predecessors have.
"…serves as an excellent showcase for the talented actor."