Halle Berry, Shamier Anderson, Adan Canto, Sheila Atim, Danny Boyd Jr., Adriane Lenox, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Valentina Shevchenko
A disgraced MMA fighter finds redemption in the cage and the courage to face her demons when the son she had given up as an infant unexpectedly reenters her life.
Jackie Justice is a mixed martial arts fighter who leaves the sport in disgrace. Down on her luck and simmering with rage and regret years after the fight, she’s coaxed into a brutal underground fight by her manager and boyfriend Desi and grabs the attention of a fight league promoter who promises Jackie a life back in the octagon. But the road to redemption becomes unexpectedly personal when Manny — the son she gave up as an infant — shows up at her doorstep.
Bruised is a drama written by Michelle Rosenfarb and is directed by Halle Berry, making her directorial debut. The film focuses on Jackie Justice, who was once a promising mixed martial arts fighter in the UFC who then became a punchline in the public eye after leaving a fight mid-bout. Brimming with rage, self-hate ever since she left the UFC years ago, Jackie is so down-on-her-luck that her manager and ill-tempered boyfriend Desi attempts to get her involved into an underground fight. There, she grabs the attention of Invicta FC promoter Immaculate, who makes her an offer to join his promotion and he’ll help her make her way back to the UFC. When she tries to get back into the Octagon and meets with new trainers Buddhakhan and Pops, she gets an unexpected visit from her mother, who also appears on her doorstep with her son Manny, who she gave up as an infant.
It always intrigues my interest when a well-known actor or actress decide to helm a film too, especially if they’re as the lead. It also gains my interest more when it’s a sports drama. So considering them details, as well as reading previously about the struggle Halle Berry went through in order to get this film made, which despite the Netflix Original Film label, is an independent film that had its world premiere in September 2020 at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Netflix acquired the distribution rights, I went in with an intrigued mind. Bruised is a film that flows in a similar sort of vein to the original Rocky film, as in we follow the main character in the buildup to this fight that change the course of their life, and they definitely give Jackie Justice a lot of obstacles to overcome during the course of the film, from being in an abusive relationship, to her alcoholism and also try to raise a child in the process who she let the father raise whilst her left continually spiralled. There’s a lot of meaty material there and, as to be expected, Halle Berry commits to the role physically and gives arguably her best performance in a while, showcasing her range in the dramatic/emotional moments of the film. As for directing, Berry does a lot of setups that I thought were really good here, from the scenes involving the acceleration of temper when young Manny comes to live with Jackie and Desi, to a pivotal scene between Jackie and Buddhakhan is laid bare towards the final act, the way those scenes are framed are really good and for the main event of the bout itself, you can tell that Berry is a fan of the sport as the way the fight is sequenced and edited by Jacob Craycroft and Terliyn A. Shropshire. Of the supporting cast I thought Sheila Atim gave a really good performance as Buddhakhan, an interesting figure that we slowly get to know more about during the course of the film, she has a compelling screen presence.
While the film follows familiar tropes used in the genre, I would admit that while the film excelled in the sporting elements, in the dramatic and emotional moments, they just missed that weighty punch to make an impact on me. There’s moments of real weight that the audience is made to acknowledge but aren’t given a resolution in a way hat makes it feel earned or compelling, such as a moment Jackie brings up about her childhood with her mother Angel McQueen, to something else that happens in the final act that I won’t get into. While this is certainly focused on Jackie Justice and works wonders for Halle Berry, I didn’t necessarily feel the buildup of the fight, it was more of an afterthought and while in theory I understand why it can work for some people, a part of me would’ve liked to have seen just a big more screen time of Valentina Shevchenko to further build the fight. I also would’ve liked to have seen just a bit more of Shamier Anderson and Stephen McKinley Henderson as well.
Bruised has Halle Berry give one of her best performances in a while, showcases promise as a director, the story however is all too familiar and the journey doesn’t work as well as the destination.