Review by Daniel Mendes, TheCineBuff.com
Can a disgraced fighter get a second chance at redemption? That’s the central question of Halle Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised. The film centers around Jackie Justice (also played by Berry), a disgraced MMA fighter living in the slums of Newark. At the outset, she’s a rising talent, but as the film cuts to the present day it reveals Jackie now out of the limelight for over four years working as a housemaid to make ends meet. Her world is suddenly upended when her son shows up at her doorstep, and she is suddenly forced to face her past while fighting for her and her son’s future.
There’s nothing breezy or fun about Bruised; right from its opening, it establishes Jackie as a broken, washed-up athlete. She loses her job, lives in a grimy apartment with her incompetent and abusive boyfriend, and she has a rocky relationship with her mother. It’s a fine way to set up the character as an underdog, but there comes a point where it feels overwhelming, and the movie is weighed down by its heavy tone.
The script has many subplots but gives none of them ample time to develop which throws off its structure leaving them to serve only as distraction. Like the subplots, the characters are underdeveloped as well. The film’s driving force is Jackie’s relationship with her son Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), but it never fully lands. Manny is mute for almost the entire film which is his only defining character trait. There’s an attempt to add an extra layer to the character through his interest in music, but it’s quickly done away with and never brought up again.
The other half of the story focuses on Jackie’s relationship with trainer and love interest Buddhakan (Sheila Atim), but unfortunately their romance is the least interesting part of their dynamic. Atim’s chemistry with Halle Berry works as a student-teacher relationship, but at no point does the romance feel authentic. It fizzles out as quickly as it began and is inconsequential to the overall plot.
On a story level, Bruised might be lacking, but it excels in its fight choreography, particularly the final match between Jackie and Lady Killer (Valentina Shevchenko). For a first-time director, this is rather impressive. Berry utilizes her experiences as an action star and lays it all out on the screen. Although the lead-up to the fight might be clumsy, the fight itself is a satisfying payoff for all the suffering Jackie has been put through. The punches carry weight. Jackie’s resilience is inspiring, and it results in a triumphant comeback for the formerly disgraced fighter.
The sports drama is nothing new; from Rocky to Warrior, audiences have grown accustomed to the tropes of the genre. However, movies like Rocky stand the test of time because of their heart. Berry throws everything she can into this film , but it lacks the heart that would make it truly compelling. For fans of sports dramas, this is a low recommendation. Bruised fights hard but never quite goes the distance.