There’s nothing new about Bruised, a story filled with clichés from sports films, but it shows that Berry’s potential as a director is promising.
Halle Berry gives herself an impressive showcase as an actor in the underdog sports drama bruised. Making her directorial debut, Berry tackles a story filled with clichés from sports films. Thankfully, Berry’s performance keeps the story rooted, with occasional melodrama slips. While there is nothing new in bruised, Berry has made a promising directorial debut.
After a montage retracing the rise of female combatants in mixed martial arts, bruised opens with a point of view as Berry’s Jackie Justice. Panicked in the middle of the game, Jackie tries to get out of the cage, humiliating herself and thus ending her UFC career. Four years later, Jackie works as a housekeeper, lives in a run down Newark apartment with her boyfriend / manager Desi (Adan Canto) and barely makes ends meet. Will she stage a miraculous comeback that will redeem her both personally and professionally? Sure.
This comeback begins during an unauthorized underground fight, where Desi is looking for new talent. Instead, it’s Jackie who is spotted, after getting into a fight with a fighter of an intimidating size who insults her. This catches the eye of Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), a flashy promoter who runs an all-female mixed martial arts league. He offers Jackie the chance to join his league and eventually return to the UFC – if she’s ready to work.
Jackie is still hesitant, but she finds additional motivation in Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), the six-year-old son she abandoned before his disastrous loss to the UFC. Manny shows up at Jackie’s door after witnessing his father’s murder, now locked up and refusing to speak. Jackie doesn’t know what to do with the traumatized Manny, who doesn’t remember her at all. She decides to become a mother, especially when the alternate parental figures are the volatile mother of Desi and Jackie (Adriane Lenox).
Jackie therefore starts training again, working with a coach so serene that she is nicknamed Buddhakan (Sheila Atim). Spot the workout montages, motivational speeches, and angry confrontations between Jackie and Desi. Jackie’s relationships remain sketchy, played out in broad strokes for the most part predictable. A last-minute intimate connection between Jackie and Buddhakan rings false, as queer romance is just another item on the serious authenticity checklist.
Even more frustrating is Jackie’s relationship with mute Manny, who will obviously start talking as soon as he and Jackie share a climactic bonding moment. Redeeming a protagonist through their relationship with a cute child is a cheap and overused manipulation tactic. Manny always comes across as a plot device rather than a fully realized character.
bruised fared better in the ring, documenting Jackie’s return to fighting form. While Berry only hosts a few actual matches, the MMA action is clear and exciting. Immaculate ultimately offers Jackie a title fight against a champion known as Lady Killer (played by real MMA fighter Valentina Shevchenko), and that goal is more effective than any of Jackie’s personal struggles. She appears to solve her drinking problem via a single scene of spilling alcohol bottles down the drain, and other deeper issues are dealt with at random. Jackie’s past trauma feels like half-formed ideas that Berry and screenwriter Michelle Rosenfarb threw away and then left behind.
Berry approaches all of these intense moments with the emotional weight they deserve, rarely exaggerating Jackie’s angst. She’s also convincing as an elite athlete, as Jackie gets back in shape for a professional fight. The supporting cast isn’t as strong, and Canto and Atim struggle to keep up with Berry as viable love interests for Jackie. Like Jackie, Buddhakan gets snippets of the backstory revealed at random. One of his most important revelations happens entirely offscreen and is never explained.
The generic plot and character details make it harder to worry about Jackie’s eventual triumph, though Berry mostly wins her in-ring victories. bruised is cobbled together from the spare parts of dozens of other films, Million dollar baby To warrior To Creed To left-handed, reverting to the original Rocky. Berry captures the pace and tone of these films, but it’s mostly just shadowboxing, never establishing a single, solid identity.
Bruised is now playing in select theaters and debuting November 24 on Netflix.
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