Bruised (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – A disgraced MMA fighter finds redemption in the cage and the courage to face her demons when the son she had given up as an infant unexpectedly reenters her life.

My Take – For any mainstream actor/actress being active for 30 years in the film industry means that they have been relegated to roles and performances which have brought them their fair share of acclaim and mockery.

Such has also being the case of Halle Berry, who despite starring in a variety of dramas, comedies and thrillers in her early years, found worldwide recognition by playing Storm in the superhero flick X-Men (2000), and the Bond girl ‘Jinx’ in Die Another Day (2002), while also managing to score Best Actress Academy Award for her dramatic performance in Monster’s Ball (2001) in between.

But since her other superhero flick, Catwoman (2004), acted mostly like a career killer, it also meant Berry found herself rather attached to mostly miss than hit features and the rather unfairly cancelled CBS series, Extant.

Hence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her latest, which also marks as her directorial debut, marks as a massive return to form for the actress, showcasing her best acting work in years, of course not discounting her superb supporting turn in the excellent John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019). More unsurprisingly is the fact how the dual position clearly suits her, as Berry immediately brings an intensity to the sports drama that pulsates all the way through its 138-minute-long running time.

Sure, the film doesn’t break any new ground from a narrative standpoint, occasionally lapses into cliché and overly-familiar territory, and is broadly predictable, but Berry shows a flair for directing, and brings a commitment and focus to the drama. But most importantly, Berry, as an actor, is so poignant, dominating and affecting here in the simplistic story that she just ends up winning positive points on both fronts.

The story follows Jackie Justice (Halle Berry), a former MMA star on the rise who due to an ill-advised fight arranged by Desi (Adan Canto), her manager/boyfriend, suffers an embarrassing career ending defeat, leaving her psychologically tattered. Now four years later, she’s cleaning toilets with no prospects on the horizon, lost, and with only the equally alcoholic Desi for company.

But when Desi tempts her back into fighting via a vicious underground meet, she manages to throw down a woman twice her size by wildly head butting her continuously, catching the eye of Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), an MMA league owner, who convinces her to get back into the ring by beginning training with his best coach Buddhakan (Sheila Atim).

However, her life takes an unexpected turn when her abusive mother (Adriane Lenox) suddenly shows up at her doorstep to hand her over her six year old son, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), who Jackie had previously left with his now dead father. But determined to get her life back on track, by connecting with her emotionally traumatized son, and by accepting a televised fight with the current champion, Lady Killer (UFC pro Valentina Shevchenko), Jackie decides to give it all.

Scripted by newcomer Michelle Rosenfarb, the film takes every cliché from the sports film and gritty emotional drama and mashes it all together to bring out the greatest hits. But as a director Berry understands how to make a competent sports drama complete with all the emotional training montages and passion that viewers expect. It’s clearly a passion project for her as we can see the commitment in every frame.

Firstly, she elevates every other actor that shares the screen with her. Then, alongside cinematographer Frank G DeMarco, she brings an attention to detail that makes Justice’s dank and depressing living and working conditions come to life in an authentic but subtle manner. The training sequences of her ordeal by squats, thrusts and punishing weights are agonizing to behold, and a scene where she suffers a panic attack in the ladies’ toilet is frighteningly intense and claustrophobic.

This isn’t about a character working their way to the top, it’s about our hero facing their past so they don’t need to keep running from it. While balancing her relationships with Manny, Buddhakan, and her mother, here, Berry embraces Jackie’s miserable plight with a kind of self-flagellating relish, and for much of the story she looks as though she’s just been thrown from a moving vehicle.

The fight too, when it comes, is decent enough, a strong showcase for Berry’s athleticism, proving she’s equally as adept directing action sequences as she is with drama, as the fight builds in a truly gripping fashion.

Yes, is at times an unwieldy mixture of lazy sports-flicks and tired melodrama that never finds an originality of voice to mirror its director’s depth of feeling for the material, but there’s a visceral force in Berry’s performance and direction that keeps you gripped for most of the running time. Halle Berry’s portrayal is so transformative and fiery that you truly believe her as a character who’s as vulnerable and damaged as she is determined to put things right. It does take some time to warm to Jackie, but when her son comes into the picture it’s difficult not to cherish the bond they develop. Young actor Danny Boyd Jr. too truly knocks it out of the park.

Sheila Atim plays with imperious poise and command, and is with a doubt one of the best parts of the film. In other roles, Shamier Anderson, Adan Canto, Adriane Lenox, Valentina Shevchenko and Stephen McKinley Henderson provide good support. On the whole, ‘Bruised’ is a triumphant first outing from Halle Berry, who despite being hampered by an underwritten script, manages to score acting and directing wise.

Directed – 

Starring – Halle Berry, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lela Loren

Rated – R

Run Time – 138 minutes

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