In the game of life, we are sometimes dealt an unfair hand. However, it is often how we play the cards we are given that impact us the most. This is something that Skylar (Devon Slack) fails to realize in Stéphan Beaudoin bleak drama Yankee. An American haunted by an abusive past, Skylar is laying low in Drummondville with her drug dealing cousin, Kev (Jean-Philippe Perras).
Living in constant fear of being discovered by the police, Skylar is convinced by Kev to partake in the world of underground fighting to help him pay off some debt. Though she lacks any proper mixed martial arts experience, she feels obligated to help her cousin. He not only does he provide her a place to stay; but has also kept her dark secret hidden. After losing horribly in a key match, Kev enlists the help of former boxing champ Chuck (Émile Mailhiot), one of his indebted customers, to get Skylar into fighting form within a week.
While the idea of a down on luck her fighter may ignite connotations of Million Dollar Baby, by way of Fight Club, Yankee travels down its own distinct path. Beaudoin is more interested in creating a moody character study than a mixed martial arts film. The real fights happen not in the ring, but within the mentally and physically abusive environments that Skylar cannot seem to escape.
As if trapped in an endless dark tunnel, the brief moments of light she is privy to, such as her growing friendship with Chuck, are fleeting at best. Although Devon Slack does a great job of conveying the cold despair that consumes Skylar, the script does not always rise to the level of her performance. While Skylar is given plenty of dimensions, Chuck and Kev are often left flapping in the wind. The genuine connection between Skylar and Chuck, arguably the most intriguing connection in the film, does not have enough time to breathe. As a result, Chuck’s arc only feels slightly more realized than Kev’s unhinged spiral.
Considering that the film centres around the problematic bond between Skylar and Kev, one would expect to get a little more insight into what makes the volatile drug dealer tick. Instead, his unhealthy obsession with his cousin, one where he feels the need to protect and control every aspect of her life, even her romantic choices, is treated with simple “he’s crazy” tropes. This makes many of Kev’s actions feel more ridiculous than menacing.
Yankee has some interesting things to say about the destructive and vicious cycles of abuse people find themselves in. Unfortunately, the film fails to land the darkly complicated and emotionally rich punches it attempts to throw.