It’s hard to believe that Bruised, written by Michelle Rosenfarb, was once going to be directed by Nick Casavettes starring Blake Lively. In this version of reality, Halle Berry takes over directing and acting duties. With her innate magnetism and ferocious commitment, Bruised is undoubtedly her movie. In Bruised, she is very much crafting the typical comeback sports drama, but Berry’s unique skill of being so committed to the physical and mental journey of her characters is what helps this sports drama stand out from the rest. While formulaic, Bruised beats the odds by being a fairly entertaining & moving sports drama that has everything one would expect from a Berry film.
The most notable element in Bruised is Berry’s character, Jackie Justice. She is going through it. Jackie "Pretty Bull" Justice was a star in the UFC until one brutal fight sent her running away. After a couple of years out of the game, she finds herself getting back into it. Throwing a wrench into her already crumbling life is the surprise reunion with Manny (Danny Boyd, Jr.), the son she abandoned.
Bruised skews more Southpaw than Creed when comparing similar and recent sports dramas. There is a grungy rawness to how Berry and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco capture the movie. The camera is always moving, evoking that feeling of constant unease or excitement. The goal is to get the audience into Jackie's head, her environment, and into her sport. The film lacks that Hollywood polish and sheen that often distracts from the harsh and brutal reality of what it is being depicted. Bruised is very much a film that wants to make viewers feel every gut punch, both physical and emotional. Berry is exceptional here. As always, she gives it her all. The physicality the role demands is unreal. It can get exhausting just watching her character workout and fight.
However, Berry thrives on her understated performance, which is just as impressive as her fighting physique. Jackie isn’t a big talker so Berry must rely on a physical performance to emote every thought and feeling. Sharing the screen with Berry is Sheila Atim as Jackie’s new trainer Bobbi “Buddhakan” Berroa. Atim holds her own opposite the Oscar-winner and instantly captures attention. She has this calm and comforting demeanor that dominates every space she occupies. Jackie may be the fighter in the room, but Buddakhan may be an Amazon by the way she carries herself. Shamier Anderson also stands out. the rising star's character is not great (personality-wise) but Anderson’s charisma helps. The most critical performance rests on young Danny Boyd Jr.'s shoulders. He has a very bright future ahead of him if he is giving such poignant performances at his age.
While the film is good at following a formula, it does falter with a few narrative choices that throw off its balance. Rosenfarb's script is fine, but could have used some fine-tuning. There is a revelation about Jackie’s past regarding her mother that feels too big to go undiscussed for the rest of the film and it grounds the story to a screeching halt. While it does paint a clearer picture of Jackie and the choices she makes, it just feels out of place. Overall, the story sticks to its formula with very few unexpected turns. However, the heart of the film lies in Berry’s commitment to the role of producer, director, and actor. The verdict: Bruised is a well-crafted film; not many first-time directors can make a film as well put together like this.
Berry’s commitment to maintaining femininity throughout the film is also an important aspect. This isn’t a story of just a fighter, it’s a story about a woman who fights. Fighting for her life from a very young age and cultivating the rage within her for years to propel her forward. Her struggles and pain are rooted in her being a woman and the specific trials and tribulations that come with that. Berry as a producer emphasizes that point by collecting an array of women artists to provide the soundtrack for the film. Used wisely, the music paired with Jackie’s redemption story paints a picture of a woman finding her confidence, her voice, and her strength. The sport itself means little as the story is truly about overcoming one’s pains and anxieties to choose better for themselves, and the people that rely on them to do so. Bruised is an exceptionally well-done film, with Berry proving that after decades worth of acting under her belt, she is ready for a new chapter in her life as a director.
Bruised is available to stream on Netflix as of Wednesday, November 24. It is 129 minutes long and rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content/nudity and violence.
- Bruised (2021)Release date: Nov 17, 2021