Director Nick Parada makes his full-length feature debut with the grimy coming-of-age story Bro’, set in the underground freestyle motocross circuit where drugs and death appear to be commonplace. Bro’ walks a fine line, being an intense and brutally realistic downward spiral on one hand, while also over-playing the stereotypes and toughness that comes with being a tattoo-heavy motocross rider on the other. Bro’ is mostly a shining achievement for an up-and-coming filmmaker that you shouldn’t take your eye off of.
Johnny (Will Chavez) is just another college student lost in the shuffle. He’s holding down a respectable job while living with his mother. He’s just waiting for the next best thing. It starts with interest in a girl, but it leads to a friendship with her brother Jesse (Beau Manley) that takes Johnny on a downward spiral as he experiments with drugs among other illegal activities.
Bro’ on the surface might look like an overpowering film that’s trying too hard to sell you on its toughness and “bad-ass” characters, but that’s actually what helps make the film somewhat authentic in the way that it portrays certain freestyle motocross riders as they live their day-to-day lives. Director Nick Parada without a doubt captures the intense and on-edge lifestyle that these riders probably wrestle with each and every day. It starts with soft parties and eventually escalates to cocaine-induced sexual encounters that could end up leading to a bullet in the head.
Parada maintains a fine balance with his even-handed approach to the central characters. Johnny is the square, while Jesse is the bad-ass drug dealer with the pimped out ride and all the girls a guy could dream for. What sells the characters and make them work on a level that’s worth watching is the performances by Will Chavez and Beau Manley.
Chavez takes Johnny from high to low, back up to mid-range, as he unveils the character’s yearning for acceptance and to be a bad-ass biker like the rest of his pals. Chavez gives off a performance that almost feels like he’s trying too hard, but that’s exactly how Johnny presents himself. He wears some of the lamest T-shirts and says some of the stupidest shit, all hoping to pick up a girl for a quick (and I mean real quick) encounter in the front seat of his newly purchased ride. Chavez understands when to gun it for complete ridiculousness and when to hang back and let some of the other actors help add some character to any given scene.
Beau Manley is the complete opposite as Jesse. He never refrains or attempts a conversation that doesn’t involve the words “dude” or “bro” and that’s perfectly fine, because again, he’s catering to that authenticity of the character. Jesse is very much your basic stereotypical “bro” that thinks he’s the hottest shit in town and Manley simply amplifies that and brings you closer to the shady and almost detestable character. He does that by being genuinely interesting and unpredictable. You never know what’s exactly going on up in Jesse’s thick skull, so you’re constantly glued to the character as he makes some horrible decisions that can only go one way.
The film doesn’t completely waste its supporting talent, like Danny Trejo, Colin “Scummy” Morrison and D.J. Bennett. Most of them help heighten specific scenes and help ensure that our main characters aren’t the most-hated men walking on the screen. Johnny and Jesse quickly become upstanding citizens when compared to some of the other characters Parada fills his film with.
Independent films are really hard to fairly judge, because you have to take into consideration everything that helped lead to the point of release. A film like Bro’ didn’t have the same budget as most independent productions coming out of Magnet or IFC, so naturally you have to respect and critique the film within its own limitations. Even comparing the production to some of today’s wide-release films makes Bro’ something of an achievement, especially for a first-comer.
Bro’ has some excellent cinematography that adds a little bit of artistic flavor to such an unpleasant story. The film goes to some low points for the characters and Parada keeps up with the mood by reflecting with camera work that is constantly sharp and always at just the right angle to maximize the potential of any given shot. The scenes on the motocross track are some of the best and that shouldn’t come as a surprise since several crew members are actual real-life riders.
Parada co-wrote the script with Kim MacKenzie and between the two of them the film never tries too hard to out step the genre in which it’s playing in, but at the same time it still has a couple surprises up its sleeve that don’t feel too telegraphed or borrowed. Bro’ follows closely in the footsteps of other coming-of-age stories that mix innocent characters with drugs and alcohol, but it stays fresh by introducing the world of motocross into the plot and sticking closely to its center relationships, without wasting too much time venturing off.
Nick Parada hasn’t crafted a masterpiece, but he’s inching closer and Bro’ is proof that the guy can stretch a budget and really make it look like a full-fledged studio production. Bro’ fumbles occasionally, but never as bad as you’d maybe expect from something that stars motocross riders and mostly up-and-coming actors. The performances by Chavez and Manley help the film stick the landing and Parada’s fearless direction helps it cross the finish, resulting in a film with balls that’s never afraid to embrace its stereotypes, while adding a bit of definition to them.
Bro’ – 7/10
*I caught the film at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest, where co-writer Kim MacKenzie and executive producer Shaoky Taraman were in attendance to shed some more light on the production of the film and how the script came about. The film will be releasing on DVD on December 18th, 2012.*