MMA Drama Bruised submits to some cliches but is worth a look
Academy Award winner and ageless beauty Halle Berry makes her directorial debut in Netflix's Bruised. Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) is a mixed martial arts fighter who leaves the sport in disgrace. Down on her luck and simmering with rage and regret years after her last fight, she's coaxed into a brutal underground fight by her manager and boyfriend Desi (Adam Canto) and grabs the attention of a fight league promoter Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), who promises Jackie a life back in the octagon.
Helping Jackie with her training are Buddhakan (Sheila Atim) and Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson), but the road to redemption becomes unexpectedly personal when Jackie’s past comes knocking at her door. It turns out Jackie has a son she gave up as an infant. After his father's death, the son, now aged six and named Manny (Danny Boyd, Jr.), shows up at her doorstep. To make matters worse, Manny does not speak due to the trauma of his father's death. Will Jackie mend her relationships and be able to take down her opponent Lady Killer (Valentina Shevchenko)?
In addition to serving as the directorial debut for Berry, the Bruised script comes from first-time writer Michelle Rosenfab. That said, all of the familiar plot beats of a sports redemption story are in the film. Berry and Rosenfab make the wise choice to highlight briefly Jackie's fighting skills early on. This choice allows the audience to see Jackie's ability and understand that the talent is still there. The bulk of the film focuses on Jackie’s training as she prepares for the big fight.
The big fight takes up nearly all of the film's final ½ hour, so I understand why the film took this angle. Bruised is primarily an acting showcase for Berry, who carries the film. I found this a bit surprising as you have acting talents in Shamier Anderson and Stephen McKinley Henderson also. Both men portray their roles well, however. Next to Berry, I felt the only other two characters/actors who had some meat in their roles were Buddhakan (Sheila Atim) and Manny (Danny Boyd, Jr.).
Atim brings Zen-like quality to the role of the trainer and has organic chemistry with Berry. While Danny Boyd Jr. plays the role of a traumatized child well, the script avoids making his character overly cutesy. I respected that the screenplay does not make the relationship between Manny and Jackie fake and allows it to build. Regarding the MMA in the film, I am not deep into the sport, so I cannot speak on the authenticity of the training and the final fight, but I was rooting for Jackie throughout the film.
If I had one gripe in the film, the run time could have been cut by about ten to fifteen minutes, but overall I was engaged. Bruised may follow a cliched template, however with some impressive fight choreography, strong acting from our lead, and quality directing, the film is worth a one-time watch.
Final Grade: B
Bruised is streaming on Netflix now