Estrogen meets testosterone in a battle of true grit gladiators.

Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) is a Brooklyn girl who has not had an easy time of it. She doesn't fit too easily into the world around her, much less the neighborhood into which she's been born. To describe her as a "tom-boy" would be too reserved. Her masculine traits are a bigger source of disappointment to father Sandro (Paul Calderon), than are her brother Tiny's (Ray Santiago) softer, more intellectual traits. Sandro would like to see Diana wearing dresses and Tiny throwing fists. Role-playing, unfortunately, doesn't suit the siblings of the Guzman family. In her adolescent discontent, Diana appears to be on a hell bent road toward self-destruction, not completely of her own making. Trapped by her environment, she has no easy outlet for her furies.

Once discovering the smelly halls of the local athletic club, however, where her brother reluctantly trains, she finds a milieu that suits her to a T. Her affinity with boxing reveals itself immediately as she jumps into the ring and decks Ray (Victor Sierra), her brother's opponent, who usually depends on the cheap shot to win his games. Until now, her fighting had remained restricted to school hallways, playgrounds, and streets. Away from the bustle and feeling at home among the muscle, she manages (by hook and by crook) to gather together enough cash to enroll under trainer Hector (Jaime Tirelli) at the club. Scheming and planning every inch of the way, she works toward achieving her new goal while simultaneously learning the important aspects of balance, control and endurance; Hard work and discipline assist in making a personal dream come true.

Despite difficulties at home, she grows closer to her brother as they develop a new understanding of each other. Her relationship with a dismissive father, however, never appears to offer any method for healing the wounds of the past. In anger, she vehemently tells him that "Everything I learned about losing, I learned from you!" Previous to her activities at the club, the only close friend she had was Marisol (Elisa Bocanegra), a student at the school who understands Diana better than anyone else.

Diana's venture into the world of boxing also introduces her to a first romance when she meets Adrian (Santiago Douglas), a good-looking young featherweight with hopes of becoming a professional boxer. While the gym helps develop Diana's body, a relationship with Adrian helps soften her personality as she ripens into a woman. Of course, one can expect that the problem might eventually raise its head as to who is ultimately going to wear the shorts in this relationship. Growing into an adult and a woman, Diana must decide which things are most important to her.

The rough edges of newcomer Michelle Rodriguez in her debut role suitably give vent to an explosive personality fighting her way out of a gritty world. The documentary style of the film sharpens these edges even more. Santiago Douglas, an actor who has already been seen in "The Sopranos" and "Murder She Wrote" sensitively portrays her romantic partner among the rough and tumble. (Also take note of "Girlfight" producer John Sayles appearing in a cameo as the science teacher.)

Writer and director Karyn Kusama, who began boxing in her early twenties, says, "Boxing is very intimate. It strangely moving to see two people agree to be in a ring together to fight each other, yet it's necessarily tragic -- somebody loses and somebody wins. I find it one of the purest sports, a very powerful confrontation between you and your opponent". She adds that, "In boxing, as in any sport, you are confronting yourself".

Winner of Best Direction and (shared) Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival of 2000. Take that!

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett