Say what you will about stunt performers with respect to acting. The fact remains is the two go equally hand in hand, and for this, whatever amount of formal training Canadian stunt performer Devon Slack has had prior to shooting her first feature lead role in Stéphan Beaudoin’s new drama, Yankee, rest assured, she’s pulled off quiet a compelling feat.
Slack throws herself head-first into the role of Skylar, an Albany resident whose cousin, Kev (Jean-Phliippe Perras) pulls her from the dreary dwellings of her upstate N.Y. residency and takes her into his Drummondville home where they start arranging a way for her to help bring some money in through underground fighting. Skylar’s got the moves, but she’s way rough around the edges and it’s up to Kev to help get Skylar trained and prepped to take on fighters.
Besides, Kev isn’t exactly doing it for the love of the sport, as much as he’s indebted to certain seedy types with perpetuity. He’s got it bad, and so he enlists ex-professional fighter-turned-drug addict, Chuck (Émile Mailhiot), to help put in the floor work. While the prospects look up for all three, it isn’t long before the complex, interwoven drama between Skylar, Kev and Chuck sets in, unraveling a twisted, relentless tale that explores perversion, guilt, tragedy in a seemingly unending, vicious cycle of violence, told from the prospective of one woman who only ever wanted a way out.
The first five minutes of Yankee is a brisk summary of just how brutal things are going to get for the remaining ninety minutes, including an electric opening fight scene with Slack and actress/stunt performer Orphée Ladouceur-Nguyen. The main story itself is given primary focus, jumping back and forward in time on only a few occasions to tease both the action, as well the ensuing mystery behind the root incident; The latter doesn’t take much to figure out as you’re putting the pieces together in your head and observing just how much it factors in to the rest of the film, and similarly, this doesn’t take anything away from the film’s enjoyment or its performances overall, which are both in English and Quebeçois.
Speaking of, if there’s at least one other performance to take away from the film, it’s that of Perras in the role of Kev. Apart from being a gambler and a junkie with certain insecurities, his even deeper afflictions and obsessions ultimately threaten the fabric between him and Skylar given that he’s all the family she’s got left, on top of the fact that her reliance on Chuck to train her also becomes a factor in his entropy when a line that should never get crossed, well, ultimately does.
Mailhiot’s portrayal of Chuck illustrates a character who’s really no better than Kev, though he’s less of a degenerate and more affable to Skylar which leaves an ample amount of room for temptation. Per usual with any illicit romance, their business arrangement gradually ensues to something sexual, and eventually disastrous, peeling back the layers and revealing the one conclusive truth about Skylar at a key moment of peril when she’s all alone and forced to do what she needs to stay alive.
The action isn’t the film’s biggest centerpiece, but serves as an essential feature in Skylar’s character development, which also lends plenty of room for Slack to showcase her chief skillset while showcasing herself as an actress. She exhibits formidable range in her debut performance that should put her on the map for directors, producers and even other stunt colleagues working their way into the director’s chair, and looking for the next Amy Johnston or Tara Macken or Natascha Hopkins.
Storied by Beaudoin and screenwriter Sophie-Anne Beaudry, Yankee embarks on an emotional rollercoaster of violence, lust, sexual depravity and greed, leaving no room for redemption, if not very little. With additional focus on things such as addiction, homelessness, abuse and abandonment, the film presents an immersive, dramatic thriller that subtly spotlights human nature with every intent on leaving a mark no matter now deep it cuts.