Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) is an angry young woman living in the poverty-stricken Red Hook precinct of Brooklyn with her dismissive father Sandro (Paul Calderon) and younger brother Tiny (Ray Santiago). Her quick temper and a nothing to lose attitude earn her a reputation as a troublemaker, which boxing trainer Hector (Jaime Tirelli) agrees reluctantly to channel into boxing while also training Tiny.
The body language of Diana Guzman - played by newcomer Michelle Rodriguez - shows her attitude. She's resentful, she's aggressive, she's not understood at school or at home where she lives with single father Sandro - Paul Calderon and younger brother Tiny (Ray Santiago). She's a product of Brooklyn's Red Hook projects where people rarely have a chance to move outside the narrow confines of their lives. One day on a errand for her father she visits a local boxing gym and steps right up to stand up for her brother. She discovers she wants to box but it isn't easy getting the money for the trainer she wants - Hector - Jaime Tirelli - when her father is demeaning. But this is a girl with few scruples and few illusions about life.
This terrific film about the importance of finding definition, discipline and self-respect in life combines elements of a sporting movie - without any phony rah rah business, a coming of age story, and a delicate romance between Diana and fellow boxer Adrian - Santiago Douglas - who has his own path to find in his relationship with this volatile yet vulnerable young woman.
Writer/director Karyn Kusama is herself a devotee of boxing and is aware of the essence of the sport, the confrontation with self and with the other in the loneliness of the ring. She elicits a marvellous performance from Michelle Rodriguez, and all the performances around her smack of a reality that's totally convincing. Is this a film for a new millennium's femininity.