TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Boxer Kali “KO” Reis is the first Native American woman to win the WBA Super Lightweight World championship. The athlete makes her acting debut in Catch The Fair One, for which she came up with the story alongside writer-director Josef Kubota Wladyka. Does the boxing champ start her film career off on the right foot, or is it a swing and a miss?
Reis plays former boxing champion Kayleigh, whose relationship with her mother, Jaya (Kimberly Guerrero), is quite strained. Tensions between parent and child have only grown worse after Kayleigh’s younger sister was kidnapped and never heard from again after walking home from the boxing gym she trains at. While law enforcement seems to have stopped searching for her, Kayleigh has not given up hope.
She then receives a tip about the person who took her sister off the streets. This person is part of a human trafficking ring run by Bobby (Daniel Henshall) and his father, Willie (Kevin Dunn). Now to get to the bottom of her sister’s disappearance and exact revenge on those responsible, Kayleigh allows herself to be taken by the traffickers.
Up until the end, Catch The Fair One is an absorbing thriller with strong characterizations. The screenplay takes its time to establish Kayleigh’s life after boxing and her determination in finding her sibling. But no worries, as once the action gets underway, the film is intense and thrilling, with each beat leaving viewers on the edge of their seats. A brutal waterboarding sequence is especially memorable and speaks volumes about the traits Kayleigh holds dear.
“…to get to the bottom of her sister’s disappearance…Kayleigh allows herself to be taken by the traffickers.”
Reis gives it her all as Kayleigh, and she is excellent. Kali might be a bit tight-lipped and hard to read under that stoic exterior, but the athlete-turned-actor does a fantastic job at exuding the vulnerability and emotions of the character. The first meeting of Kali and her mom is fraught with unspoken anger, and their unease with communicating with each other is palpable. It is a tricky scene to navigate for any actor, much less a first-time thespian.
Of course, it helps that Guerrero is also amazing in her rather small but pivotal rule. The two play off each other, with the veteran actor giving the novice plenty of room to do what comes naturally in the moment. They really do feel like mother and daughter. As the baddies, Dunn and Henshall exude creepiness and really make everyone watching want to see them get their comeuppance.
While that is a whole lot of great present in Catch The Fair One, there is one rather large problem. The ending lacks a true resolution. In an effort to be spoiler-free, this will probably be very vague and might not make much sense. The movie ends rather abruptly with several plot threads dangling about. This leaves the viewer most unsatisfied, as they’ll be asking themselves the point of the tale that just played out.
Even with this rather big flaw, Catch The Fair One is a fantastic and engaging effort across the board. The direction is lean and ably brings forth the emotional truth of each scene. Reis delivers an excellent performance and gets to showcase her considerable boxing skills often, and a truly great roster of actors supports her. It is just too bad the last few moments leave so many unanswered questions. Still, ambitiously flawed is better than mediocre and boring.
Catch The Fair One screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
"…an absorbing thriller with strong characterizations."