Bang Bang features a career-best turn from Tim Blake Nelson: Tribeca Film Festival Review

As much as Vincent Grashaw‘s Bang Bang revels in the alpha masculinity that oft dominates the boxing industry and the men it produces, this hard drama laces its narrative with a sadness and humanity that consistently brings the film above its gruff exterior.

And much of that belongs to the impeccable Tim Blake Nelson, leading the charge as Bernard Rozyski, also known as “Bang Bang”, an eccentric, former boxing great, now living in Detroit squalor.  When we first meet Bernard we get an insight into the broken, violent frame of mind he’s living with, as he attends a public speaking from Darnell Washington (Glenn Plummer), a one-time ring rival and now Mayoral candidate, with the intent to execute him.

He doesn’t go ahead with it, but Bernard seems to continually exist on the precipice of igniting violence, so when he arrives home to his estranged daughter, Jen (Nina Arianda), and her son, Justin (Andrew Limer), we feel a sense of discomfort, both from his unpredictable nature and the clear strain of their relationship.  Her desperation is evident in that she leaves Justin with him to look after, but what could be another figure for Bernard to exercise violence on turns into a mutual relationship of beneficial therapy as he recognises anger in the teen and devises a plan to put him in the ring.

Bernard’s intentions to train Justin and get him fighting in an alarmingly quick turnaround understandably raises questions to those around him.  Does he genuinely want to teach Justin the ins and outs of a sport that, at one point, proved a fruitful avenue? Or is he doing it to strengthen his own dormant fight for something criminal?  He’s haunted by his past regardless, and bonding with Justin, through whatever means, seems to be the way he’ll face his demons – however that turns out.

Whilst it’s difficult for Bang Bang to not lean into the beats of “the boxing movie 101”, Grashaw and screenwriter Will Janowitz have formed such a fascinating figure in Bernard that whatever narrative cliches are possibly hit we easily forgive, largely due to the absolute dominance that is Nelson.  He understands who Bernard is, infusing him with humour and heart, which allows us as an audience to stay on his side when his volatility can’t help but break through.  It’s not an easy role to manoeuvre, but Nelson does it with a violent precision.

As beautiful as it is bleak, Bang Bang is a healthy reminder of Nelson’s status as one of our finest character actors.  He disappears into a role that continually finds the truth in a story that may adhere to melodramatic flourishes, but never loses focus of its intentions.


Bang Bang is screening as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, running between June 5th and 16th, 2024.  For more information head to the official Tribeca Film Festival page.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.