Bruised Review

PLOT: An MMA fighter who has fallen from grace begins to pick up the pieces of her life after her estranged son re-enters the picture.

REVIEW: Every now and again you come across movies that certainly aren’t good, aren’t quite horrendous, but are simply one long headache. The stylistic choices and belligerent insistence that you really get what the filmmakers are trying to do are like having blows rained down upon you without ceasing. Bruised is one of those movies. A mixed-martial arts drama that’s double duty for star and first-time feature director Halle Berry spends well over two hours trying so desperately to be a brutal drama that tries to encompass so many hardships and emotional struggles with such ferocity and over-blown sentimentality, it’s like being locked in a cage and being wailed on by a fighter named Oscar Bait McGregor. 

Berry plays Jackie Justice, a former MMA star on the rise who is now at her lowest after suffering an embarrassing defeat. Now, she’s cleaning toilets with no prospects on the horizon, lost, and with only her alcoholic boyfriend/manager for company. That’s all until one night she’s able to prove she’s still got what it takes to throw down after headbutting a woman twice her size into oblivion. Coinciding with the return of her young son into her life, she tries to give it all one more shot and get back into the ring. 

If that sounds like it could be any sports movie, that’s because it basically is. With a script by Michelle Rosenfarb, Bruised takes every cliche from the sports movie and gritty “human in chaos” drama and mashes it all together to bring out the greatest hits. There’s the abusive boyfriend (Adan Canto); the verbally/emotionally abusive mother (Adriane Lenox); the son she’s struggling to connect with (Danny Boyd Jr.); the trainer who becomes her major support system (Sheila Atim) and; plot points driven by a big argument or upheaval that shows, yes, life is certainly a struggle for her. 

bruised review 1

With a script that features rudimentary shouting matches with no depth being unearthed from anyone, Berry’s approach is to then hammer the emotional beats so harshly it borders between exhausting and downright fantasy. Fights occur out of nowhere as if to say, “Now is about a good time for them to argue,” and only moves the plot forward in terms of moving Jackie from one location to another and leaving someone behind. The goal in mind is clearly to paint a no-holds-barred portrait of a woman trying to claw her way back into life, but the approach is so heavy-handed that it bludgeons any chance of really connecting to Jackie through her story. and lacking in any ounce of charm that I actually found it hard to root for her. There was a particular fight between Jackie and her mom at a little over the midway point that burst just about out of nowhere, is in seconds cranked things up to 11, and brings out harsh revelations about her past – all done so swiftly and over the top that it was essentially camp – I had to briefly pause the movie and wonder what the hell just happened. 

So much of Jackie’s arc hits so many conventional beats that it’s to tell what her actual journey is beyond pulling herself back up from the brink of total obscurity and poverty. There are so few dialogue exchanges that truly open her up to the audience to put her mental state into context. Some sequences just start in the middle of chaos, like her running to the bathroom during a panic attack while getting food with her son. Perhaps Berry’s mission was to really hit you with her emotional struggle and leave you jarred. She achieves that effect, but not in any positive way that rewards investment in the character. It’s just hardship after hardship with no rhythm or any big steps taken for Jackie. She’s in one moment, and then she’s in the next until she finds herself at the end, with only the razor thing “life is worth fighting for” growth theme being present. 

Where Berry does show an admirable eye is when there is some time for the smaller, admittedly tender moments between her son and her trainer, Buddhakan. Her son, who refuses to talk, is sort of a blank canvas for Jackie to speak to and try to show some vulnerability. Some of these scenes mostly succeed in how much mileage she and Boyd can get with so little spoken – even though when she does speak to him, it’s again some sort of shopworn exchange about how she’s going to do her best to look after him. That same kind of small grace extends to her relationship with Buddhakan, with Atim delivering the strongest performance as the voice of calm and personal growth. After the going has gone far too rough, these quiet moments are a gentle respite, and Berry shines brightest in the dramatic bits with these vulnerable moments. I can’t say I always loved the rest of her performance, teetering between over-the-top drama and Jackie’s very quiet, guarded personality, which is kept up for so long it becomes impossible to fully break through her barriers. 

bruised review 2

It’s a noble effort for Berry to embrace this being a story about a woman in crisis and not one strictly about MMA. Much of the runtime takes place outside of the mat, with the fighting itself a sort of symbolism for her getting her life together. But even if this isn’t truly a movie about MMA and its intricacies, Bruised is still lacking that visceral punch needed to make even the training sequences land. It makes sense for the sequences to feel slow and clunky at the start, as Jackie is getting back into the rhythm of things. But with training scene after training scene, she doesn’t seem to be growing as a fighter or rediscovering her talent. She sort of fumbles her way through sparring sessions (with a criminally underused Stephen McKinley Henderson on the sidelines), but then a montage hits after a shoehorned in emotional sequence, and suddenly she’s more than ready to take on the foe that drove her away from the sport years ago.

When we do get to that big final fight between Jackie and a fighter simply called “Lady Killer” (professional fighter Valentina Shevchenko), Berry’s penchant for brutality in the drama feels more at home in the ring. If this sequence stands as the best of the whole movie, it’s from a technical aspect. Not only does Berry the director get into the thick of the brawl, covering all the intricate angles and flailing body parts, but as an actress, she’s fully committed to the athleticism required. I’m not a watcher of the sport so I can’t speak to the technical aspects, but it’s impressive how confidently Berry throws herself to the mat. She bobs and weaves and pulls off moves that could only come from pouring countless hours into training, and on a visceral level it all pays off. Emotionally and character-wise, it’s otherwise hollow. Every connection to MMA and her past as a rising star is only addressed in short exchanges, and that includes any exploration of why her last fight went so poorly. It almost feels like a non-issue, and only exists because the character needed a reason to get sent to rock bottom. By the time she gets into the ring, there’s no build-up that makes other sequences in sports movies often have that level of palpable drama. So much of their story is leading to this moment. Here, like so many other big moments, it just feels there because it needs to be.

As much as I can see Berry wanted this to be a powerful character drama that doesn’t short change the central figure’s hardships, there’s no denying she goes far too heavy with all the elements we’ve seen in an amalgam of the sports genre before. The result is a story that doesn’t really feel like Jackie’s, and what payoff there is is too little too late. By the end, the sheer amount of everything the movie tries to throw at you for the sake of forcing you to feel something for anyone on screen makes it impossible to do just that, and the style certainly bogs down any opportunities to find what inspiration is coursing through the story’s veins. Berry certainly shows some promise behind the camera, and hopefully, for her next project she’s able to find a story that allows her to throw more than a few surprise hooks.

bruised review main




Viewer Ratings (0 reviews)

Add your rating


About the Author

3750 Articles Published