Halle Berry has long been a seasoned, emotional performer whose films don’t always reflect her talent. After her debut in Spike Lees Jungle fever In 1991, Berry – still the only Black woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best Actress – went through various stages, genres, and franchises in this business over the next few decades. Dramatic films often seem unsure of what to do with their beauty, while genre roles based on their sensuality often belittle their other talents. Swordfish and die Another Day made her a pin-up but didn’t give her much more to do than stand around in lingerie. The X-Men franchise and the laid-back DC comics Cat woman Adjustment got her ass kicked, but hardly asked anything of her.
There are exceptions, like the wonderfully complex Cloud atlas and the closed space tension of The calling, but far too often, Berry’s accomplishments surpass the films in which they can be found. And Berry’s newest, her directorial debut Bruised, is another disappointing entry in their disparate filmography.
In her role in the Netflix film as mixed martial arts fighter Jackie Justice trying to get back into the MMA octagon, Berry’s vulnerability and physical strength are compelling and impressive. Berry’s eyes have always been her most expressive feature, and her reactions here let the viewer into everything she feels: her resignation over her fall from competitive sport and her subsequent unemployment and homelessness, her shock at the return of someone from her past , their determination in endless training sequences, their fragility in a romantic moment. She finds Jackies – wait for it – hurt
But Michelle Rosenfarb’s script is so bad that it relies on stereotypes and stereotypes of family trauma, sexual abuse, and self-loathing. Bruised quickly falls victim to an irretrievable imbalance. The portrait it paints of black lives is so dependent on violence, abandonment, and cruelty that it becomes offensive if it lacks joy, confidence, or community. Berry spells out what this script asks of her, but what it demands so much that at some point Jackie is no longer a character. It’s a message about survival, and while this is an important narrative tool for underdog sports films, Bruised does not update or revive a tried and tested formula.
Jackie Justice is a former aspiring UFC star whose 10-0 run ended when she literally ran out of the octagon in the middle of a fight. (The film waits over an hour and a half to explain this self-sabotaging decision.) In the four years since Jackie fled the fight and left her career behind, Jackie has hit rock bottom. Living with her emotionally and physically abusive manager and boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto), she loses her shape and drinks too much, and continues a feud with her negligent mother Angel (Adriane Lenox). She’s tired of people turning to her on the street and calling up the viral video of the moment that so many viewed as cowardly, and she’s tired of having no purpose.
Two major life events occur that could either put Jackie back on track or end her dreams for her best. The first is that she gets the attention of Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), the stylish leader of Invicta FC, the largest female MMA league. He believes she can make a comeback if she works hard enough and links her to his top coach Buddhakan. (Sheila Atim’s best line reading could be her dry, dubious “She’s” old
Bruised‘s answers are pretty predictable, and they involve knowing yourself, breaking down your walls, and letting other people in. The writing is unremarkable, and some of the scenes are so grueling and dismissive that they practically scream “for your awards”. (In one, Manny and Jackie are crying and hugging in the middle of the street after playing Just the Two of Us on a corner stereo.)
But most of the appearances are solid. Boyd is the film’s moral compass, with a thoughtfully reactive performance that doesn’t need language to communicate his c onscience. Atim and Berry have a credible chemistry, and the former also shows himself to be intimate with Stephen McKinley Henderson in a too small role as coach Pops, who has good comedic timing with Boyd as Manny. But it’s difficult to pinpoint outstanding moments for one of these actors with a script that relies so on hopelessness as character development and desolation as world structure.
Probably the only way Bruised Trying to stand out is because of its focus on MMA. The popularity of the sport has been increasing steadily since the 1990s and then grew noticeably since 2019 ESPN has acquired exclusive TV rights to UFC bouts and began broadcasting headline battle cards on a regular basis in the major Saturday night time slots. The headline-grabbing antics of personalities like UFC President Dana White (who invited) former President Donald Trump on various struggles) and its biggest stars, including Conor McGregor (whose current set of legal problems probably overshadowed its uneven match record), have also expanded the attractiveness of MMA.
MMA is a unique world of its own, a chaotic swamp of justifiably exciting athleticism and often terrible treatment of fighters by its governing bodies. Mainstream audiences got a glimpse of this with the 2011 Gavin O’Connor film warrior. Bruised, which touts the UFC as the highest tier of MMA and has its various official logos and iconographies, does not dare to question the organization (often questionable) Business practices or (sometimes racist) Marketing antics. It is a bit strange to watch for viewers who are aware of these misdeeds Bruised present the greatness of the UFC in such a narrow-minded way.
This kind of two-step thinking about the UFC is indicative of Berry’s general approach to directing. She has put herself through a strenuous physical transformation to play a flyweight MMA contender, but her visual approach often fails to capture the art of the sport: cutting too fast that disrupts the flow of action or crooked compositional angles that make the effort from . undermine their training montages. Both Jackie’s training studio in Newark and the location of her last fight in Atlantic City feel strangely small without the lived-in feel of real places – viewers won’t smell biting sweat or taste copper-colored blood in scenes that should be Moment.
Bruised generally lacking the kind of immersion a story like this requires. It wants us to stand by Jackie’s side and stay with her, experience her pain and triumph, but it makes the way from the locker room to the octagon unfathomably long. Even slightly reversing the perpetually tragic mode that Berry committed to would have made a difference, but as it is, the film doesn’t get knocked out.
Bruised is currently available in limited theatrical version and launches on November 24th on Netflix.