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Halle Berry in Bruised.
Halle Berry in Bruised.
Photo: John Baer/Netflix






3/5 Stars


Years after a humiliating defeat, an MMA fighter grabs one last shot at redemption when the young song she left behind comes back into her life.


Okay, Halle Berry, I see you. After watching the 55-year-old's directorial debut, Bruised, this is how I felt.

Having left the UFC in disgrace, Jackie (Berry) is left simmering with rage and regret. Years after her exit, she grabs the attention of fight league promoter Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), who promises her a lucrative comeback to the octagon. In the same breath, Manny (Danny Boyd), the son she gave up as an infant, shows up at her doorstep after his father is killed.

Similarly to its title, Bruised is stinging, imperfect, and leaves a lasting impression – perhaps not the film itself but definitely Berry's performance as the MMA comeback kid. Her vulnerability and physical grit are compelling and impressive, regardless of the lacking script and visual approach. Her reaction to everything she is going through is captivating. Starting with her downfall from competitive sport and subsequent joblessness and homelessness, to dealing with the return of a son she gave up and having to start all over again, is part of a journey she succeeds in taking the audience on. But therein lies a problem. The Oscar winner's performance is one-sided. She has very little chemistry with the rest of her cast, who deliver stellar performances in their own right.

Every scene with Boyd in it was by far the best. He is the film's moral compass. And although he only says three words in the entire movie, Boyd delivers a performance so thoughtfully responsive that you won't miss speech to comprehend his conscience. For example, in one of the most poignant scenes, Manny and Jackie weep in the middle of the street after hearing "Just the Two of Us" playing on a corner stereo. Another standout is Jackie's legendary instructor Buddhakan (Sheila Atim). Using meditation to cope with her demons and never overacting her role, Atim offers a true-to-life performance.

While Berry put herself through a legitimately gruelling physical transformation to play a flyweight MMA contender in front of the camera, her cues behind the camera weren't as impressionable. Her visual approach failed to capture the brutal artistry of MMA, whether it be in the octagon or in the gym training. There's just that spark that punishing sports stories such as this need, missing. I found myself longing to smell pungent sweat or taste coppery blood during scenes that should be vivid and in the moment.

Berry can't take all of the responsibility for Bruised's average rating. Michelle Rosenfarb's screenplay throws too many supposed curves without developing the film's arcs. One such moment is the potential romance between Jackie and Buddahkan that fizzles out as quickly as it bubbles to the surface. At the same time, Rosenfarb relies too heavily on clichés that paint a portrait of Black lives so reliant on violence and abandonment that there is little to no room for joy or self-awareness.

In Bruised, Berry's individual performance is riveting, and the film is a promising start for her budding directing career. Still, the Oscar winner has some work to do if she wants to continue burning the candle at both ends, which seems promising considering the multi-film partnership deal she just signed with Netflix.


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