Bruised review: Halle Berry’s Netflix movie isn’t worthy of her talent

Halle Berry has long been a skilled, emotive performer whose movies don’t always reflect her talent. After her debut in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever in 1991, Berry — still the only Black woman to have ever won the Academy Award for Best Actress — has cycled through various phases, genres, and franchises in her next decades in this business. Films that focus on Berry’s beauty are not always clear about what they should do. Genre roles that require her sensuality can often be detrimental to her other talents. Swordfish Die Another Day made her a pinup, but didn’t give her much else to do past stand around in lingerie. The X-Men series and DC Comics loosely. CatwomanShe did the adaptation, which allowed her to kick her arse but she was not asked for anything dramatic.

However, there are some exceptions. Cloud AtlasThe locked-room tension in The call, but far too often, Berry’s performances outclass the films in which they’re found. And Berry’s latest, her directorial debut BruisedAnother disappointing film from her inconsistent filmography is titled.

In her role in the Netflix film as mixed martial arts fighter Jackie Justice, who’s trying to claw her way back into the MMA octagon, Berry’s vulnerability and physical grit are compelling and impressive. Berry’s eyes have always been her most expressive feature, and her reactions here let viewers in on everything she’s feeling: her resignation at her downfall from competitive sport and her ensuing joblessness and homelessness, her shock at the return of someone from her past, her determination during endless training sequences, her fragility in a romantic moment. She finds Jackie’s — wait for it — BruisedShe then pours her heart into it. This is unyielding Berry. John Wick: Chapter 3 – ParabellumThe emotionally free Berry Cloud AtlasAnd the aggrieved Berry Monster’s Ball. Jackie asked Berry to reach into her myriad levels of performance and she leads us there.

Halle Berry faces off against an MMA rival for the cameras in Bruised

Photo by John Baer/Netflix

But Michelle Rosenfarb’s screenplay underserves her so badly, relying on cliché after cliché of family trauma, sexual abuse, and self-hatred. Bruised It quickly falls prey to an unredeemable imbalance. It paints a picture of Black life that is so dependent on cruelty, violence and abandonment it borders on offensiveness because it fails to offer joy, self-awareness or community. Berry is able to deliver the demands that this script places on her. There is so much!Jackie becomes a secondary character after a point. She’s a Message About Survival, and while that’s a mainstay narrative device for underdog sports movies, Bruised doesn’t update or energize a well-trod formula.

Jackie Justice was a UFC fighter who was a rising star. Her 10-0 streak ended when, in the middle of an UFC fight, she literally ran out the door. The film takes more than an hour to show this shameful decision. In the four years since Jackie fled the bout and left her career behind, she’s tumbled toward rock bottom. She’s living with her emotionally and physically abusive manager and boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto), getting out of shape and drinking too much, and continuing a feud with her negligent mother Angel (Adriane Lenox). She’s tired of people approaching her on the street and pulling up the viral video of the moment so many have construed as cowardly, and she’s tired of not having a purpose.

Jackie experiences two life-changing events that can either help her get back on her feet or make her regret her decisions. She is first noticed by Immaculate Shamier Anderson, the charismatic leader of Invicta FC (the largest female MMA league). Buddhakan, her top trainer, believes she has the potential to make a comeback. (Sheila Atim’s best line reading might be her deadpan, doubtful “She’s elderly” when seeing Jackie in the gym for the first time.) Meanwhile, Angel unceremoniously dumps Jackie’s estranged 6-year-old son Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.) on Desi and Jackie’s doorstep. Jackie hasn’t seen Manny since he was a baby. Manny, after witnessing his father’s killing, refuses to speak. Desi, however, is impatient and cruel with their new addition. Jackie and Manny will bond. Jackie’s career is in jeopardy.

Bruised’s answers are fairly predictable, and they involve knowing yourself, letting down your walls, and letting other people in. The writing is unremarkable, and some of the scenes are so grueling and cloying that they practically scream “for your awards consideration.” (In one, Manny and Jackie weep and embrace in the middle of the street after hearing “Just the Two of Us” playing on a corner stereo.)

However, the majority of performances are good. Boyd is the film’s moral compass, with a thoughtfully reactive performance that doesn’t need speech to communicate his conscience. Berry and Atim share a believable chemistry. Berry is also comfortable with Stephen McKinley Henderson (in a small role, but still displaying his familiar comfort), who plays the coach Pops. Boyd, as Manny, has great comedic timing. But it’s difficult to pinpoint standout moments for any of these actors with a script that’s this reliant on hopelessness as character development and bleakness as world-building.

Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) faces her silent son over some pretty ratty-looking pizza in Bruised

Photo by John Baer/Netflix

It is the only possible way BruisedThe focus of MMA helps the organization stand out. The sport’s popularity has been on a steady uptick since the 1990s and then grew noticeably since 2019, when ESPN acquired exclusive TV rights to UFC bouts and began to regularly air headlining fight cards in premier Saturday night time slots. The headline-grabbing antics of figures like UFC President Dana White (who invited former President Donald Trump to various bouts) and its biggest stars, including Conor McGregor (whose recent string of legal issues have arguably overshadowed his uneven fight record), have also broadened MMA’s appeal.

MMA has its own world. It is a chaotic swamp of thrilling combative athleticism, and sometimes terrible treatment by governing bodies. Mainstream audiences got a glimpse into that with the 2011 Gavin O’Connor film Warrior. Bruised, which touts the UFC as the top tier of MMA, and features its various official logos and iconography, dares not question the organization’s (often questionable) business practices or (sometimes racist) marketing antics. For viewers aware of those misdeeds, it’s slightly strange to watch Bruised present the UFC’s greatness in such a blinkered way.

That sort of two-steps-behind thinking about the UFC is indicative of Berry’s overall directorial approach. Berry went through a physically demanding transformation in order to be a flyweight MMA fighter. However, her visual approach fails to convey the art of the sport. She uses too quick cuts to interrupt the action or has poor compositional angles to undermine her training sessions. Both Jackie’s training gym in Newark and the location of her final fight in Atlantic City feel curiously small, without any of the lived-in feel of real places — viewers aren’t going to smell acrid sweat or taste coppery blood during scenes that should be vivid and in-the-moment.

BruisedIt lacks immersion, as is required for a story such as this. Although it wants us to be with Jackie, to feel her joy and pain, the film makes the trip from locker room into octagon incredibly long. The film is unable to win a KO despite Berry’s commitment to a constantly sadistic mode.

Bruised currently has a limited theatrical release and will be available on Netflix starting Nov. 24.

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