Bodied review Callum Worthy DumbfoundeadYear: 2017
Director(s): Joseph Kahn
Writer(s): Alex Larsen, Joseph Kahn
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 120 mins

Synopsis: A progressive graduate student finds success and sparks outrage when his interest in battle rap as a thesis subject becomes a competitive obsession. (Source)

There’s no other way to say this – Bodied is an atom bomb unleashed upon the current zeitgeist. Director Joseph Kahn isn’t known for taking the easy way out, and his latest effort is no different. Kahn and screenwriter Alex Larsen (known battle rapper Kid Twist) have a sharp, subversive story on their hands, a battle rap romp that doesn’t pull any punches as it dissects cultural boundaries and an art form that has the power to divide or unite. By all accounts, this is a perfect time capsule of the here and now, and an indisputable crowd pleaser that pulses with a relentless rhythm and uncompromising grit.

Right off the bat, we’re thrown into a raging war zone, a war of words more violent than any physical punch, featuring two battle rappers out for blood. Off to the side, is white-as-rice Adam (Calum Worthy), who is explaining the game to his girlfriend, Maya (Rory Uphold). Not able to see past the brash insults or aggressive bids for dominance, Maya’s horrified, yet Adam looks on and even raps along to a few lines. In actuality, he’s closeted fanboy, there to interview one of battle rap’s best, Behn Grymm (Jackie Long), for a thesis. One thing leads to another, and it turns out that Adam has some untapped skill of his own. Grymm ends up making Adam his protege, and the once, timid, white boy unleashes the beast within.

Just as battle rap is a fierce, uncompromising display of skill and poetic violence, so too is Kahn’s film. From the first frame, Kahn’s created a wholly immersive experience, using a barrage of quick cuts, on-screen graphics and skillfully-staged showdowns to make each word and action feel as if its hurtling towards us with the speed and weight of a freight truck. While others would use such an overbearing style as substance, however, Kahn’s execution provides depth, rendering a world struggling to deal with cultural overstimulation and aggressively short attention spans. It all evokes a heightened sense of reality, taking on racial stereotypes, white privilege, cultural appropriation, social taboo and hypersensitivity. Needless to say, the plot is dense, with no trivial detail going to waste as Kahn chronicles Adam’s journey, forcing us to see things from outside our own perspective. Everything ties together through the rap battles themselves, which call out the value and catharsis of coming face-to-face with our faults, fears and failures to better understand ourselves and each other.

Bodied review Callum Worthy Jackie LongIn addition to being littered with a slew of cameos from actual battle rappers, the ensemble is spot on, and genuinely a joy to watch. Ushering us into the battle rap scene, Calum Worthy is incredible as Adam. Worthy is the film’s lifeline in many ways, and his transformation from meek to vicious is staggering to watch. Worthy plays a perfect everyman until he isn’t, crystalizing the film’s ideas about duality and innate, unwitting racism in a way that has to be seen to be believed. On the flip side, Jackie Long’s Behn Grymm is just as amazing. Long shows off the story’s depth in the best way, savage in his battles, but yielding soft-spoken wisdom outside of competition. Long best shows the two sides that each of us are capable of, channeling repressed anger into art which contrasts vividly with his stable domesticity. Jonathan Park (Dumbfoundead) and Anthony Michael Hall are the icing on top, as a competitor turned friend, and father figure respectively.

Bodied is raw and furious, somehow finding a way to turn its microcosm into fun yet sobering social critique. Given that the story’s implications are wide-reaching, the film isn’t one littered with easy answers. Still, it poses all the right questions and showcases that we all have more in common than most would like to admit or even acknowledge. If there’s one thing I haven’t stressed enough, it’s that whether you’re a battle rap fan or not, the film is breathtakingly entertaining, moving at the speed of light with genuine laughs and a lot of heart. Joseph Kahn just dropped the cinematic mic of the year, and his latest is absolutely an experience that needs to be sought out.

SG