Film Review: Born and Bred

Although done to death, there’s a great subject here, unfortunately buried by its director’s indifferent skills and overall poor choices.

If you think that age-old movie cliché of poor youngsters fighting their way out of the ghetto to become professional boxers is only the stuff of old Warner Bros. movies, the documentary Born and Bred proves that this is still very much a real-life situation. Director Justin Frimmer focuses on a group of East Los Angeles Latino kids, particularly 15-year-old twin brothers Javier and Oscar Molina, who dream of glory in the ring, abetted by their devoted trainer, Robert Luna.

It’s still a powerful subject but, unfortunately, Frimmer, although undoubtedly sincere, is an indifferent filmmaker who sheds no new light on his theme and is stymied by certain creative choices which keep the movie mired in a self-serious mediocrity that proves wearing on the viewer.

The amorphously weighty title of the film alone bespeaks its misguided portentousness; Frimmer’s use of a narrator intoning maxims like “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees” in an inert voice, laden with sibilant S’s, surely doesn’t help. Frimmer also relies too heavily on interviews with a cadre of crusty boxing experts which become wearisomely repetitive and are none too insightful, merely adding to the mountain of clichés. We get a lot of less-than-illuminating quotes like “You know, it’s hard to get up in the ring and get punched in the face. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

Frimmer jumps around, losing focus on the Molina brothers as they train for their big opportunity, serving up statistics about ghetto poverty and the like, in the effort to imbue sociological scope. But what is never clearly addressed is the exact toll on the lives of these angel-faced fighters, who sign their lives away, sacrificing all personal time (no girlfriends allowed, for instance) to these older men, many of them former boxers who can’t even be called has-beens because they never were anything great to begin with. An inescapable whiff of exploitation is apparent, as you wonder how fighting professionally (instead of in gang warfare) is really all that much of a happy option, given the brevity of such careers and myriad attendant problems.

It seems to take forever to get to the actual fighting, and what we do eventually see is severely lacking in the incendiary excitement boxing can purvey. It certainly did not help that on the same day I saw this doc, I also watched a marvelous, little-known Marcel Carne film, L’Air de Paris (1954), starring the great Jean Gabin as the just-scraping-by proprietor of a boxing gym, desperate to find that one great talent to finally make his reputation. Although not a documentary, this film possesses all the real human observation, passion and thrill of the sport which Born and Bred direly lacks.