Director: Halle Berry
Writer: Michele Rosenfarb
Cast: Halle Berry, Sheila Atim, Shamier Anderson, Danny Boy Jr
Bruised catches Jackie Justice (Halle Berry), an MMA fighter, at her lowest, after a match with an opponent has all but ended her career. She’s now a has-been, a wreck – alcoholic, prone to panic attacks and emotionally unstable. Life is tougher outside the cage than inside it, and the only way forward is a return to it. Normally a boxing movie – a genre Bruised closely approximates – takes the majority of is runtime to cover this defeat-retirement-comeback arc; Berry’s first film as a director does it in 15 minutes. What seems like a welcome new variation in a tired movie genre looks like a problem in retrospect. With only the big fight in the end, the rest of the film becomes one long wait, rarely rising above the cliches.
The film draws its newness from Jackie’s miseries and traumas – from her six year old son being dumped on her, after her ex husband dies, to her unresolved issues of sexual abuse as a child – but these bring with them their own cliches. The setting of underground MMA tournament is an interesting one but it could have been more immersive. Everything has a this-is-happening-in-a-boxing-movie kind of matter of factness, without the self awareness.
There’s a self-reflexiveness in this type of underdog sport film that has attracts washed-up movie stars to turn directors. Berry is affecting and as opposed to the male boxing movie, there is no big ‘physical transformation’ – MMA requires a more athletic body type; her strength as a fighter is more understated: she likes to take the opponent to the ground and finish them. The sports choreography is at best efficient but efficient just doesn’t make the cut anymore; Berry’s fights don’t become a manifestation of her psychological damages.
Rather, a couple of other characters make more of an impression. Her coach Buddhakan makes for a contrast with her temperamental, white ex boyfriend; she is a black gay woman who has found her zen calm through meditation. Or Jackie’s mother, a bit of a wreck herself; she hadn’t been a great mother, but she is trying to make up for it in her own way. The ending suggests that Bruised is about the small wins and maybe that’s the way to look at this movie as well.