This movie surprised me. For whatever reason, when I saw the poster, my mind immediately thought it was an action film. Plus, it’s called Haymaker, which is a type of knockout punch in boxing. The lead character – Nicky “Mitts” Malloy – is an ex-fighter turned bouncer and security guard; in a way, it all the ingredients of a cold-blooded action romp.
What I got instead was a remarkable, layered, nuanced love story between the aforementioned Malloy (played by first time writer-director-actor Nick Sasso) and transgender performer Nomi, played to perfection by trans singer, writer and actress Nomi Ruiz, who also acts as a producer on the film. Sasso and Ruiz are their characters to a t. In Malloy, Sasso embodies the quiet, reserved, grizzled ex-muay thai fighter who is also a loyal, soft-spoken soldier and bodyguard. As for Ruiz, she likes to say that the movie version of Nomi is her when she was just starting out – complicated, with something to prove, yet also loving and down-to-earth.
Haymaker follows these two around the world – from their base in New York to Los Angeles, Greece and Mexico – and a deep, unspoken love develops between the two. For Ruiz, she became attracted to the role as the “transness” of her character was just a-matter-of-fact and not a significant plot point; something she hopes can become more commonplace in Hollywood and society at large.
For a first time filmmaker – Sasso has experience in the industry as Visual Effects Supervisor (a role which he also fulfilled on Haymaker) as well as a production assistant on The Sopranos and Angels in America, – he attracted some experienced talent for his passion project. Stunt master Zoe Bell (most known for her work on the Kill Bill series) co-stars as Nicky’s trainer in addition to serving as Stunt Coordinator, 2nd unit director and chipping in as executive producer. Additionally, the great D.B. Sweeney shows up as Nicky’s supportive brother. German acting legend Udo Kier gives the film some weight with a one-scene appearance as a rich benefactor of Nomi’s.
In many ways, Haymaker is a groundbreaking film as it has a queer, POC character as the lead as a romantic lead, even if it is a non-traditional romantic drama. Sasso’s minimal dialogue not only allows the characters to subtly communicate with emotion and body language, but also engages the audience by allowing them to focus on the subtext; something that is not always easy to accomplish as a writer. May we see more from him in the future.