The inspirational sports movie is a genre that is popular with viewers and filmmakers alike, as obviously seen by how many of those films exist in that canon. What usually changes in each resurrection of this story is the sport and the person we’re seeing climb their way up the ladder. On the surface, it would be easy to write off Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised as another example of that popular emotional journey. However, thanks to the story centering around the brutal world of MMA fighting, and Berry’s fierce, yet fragile performance as protagonist Jackie Justice, this Netflix original lands very heartfelt punches in-between the bloody and intense conflicts on display.
Pulling double duty as director and star of the film, Halle Berry plays Jackie Justice, a disgraced mixed martial artist who’s fallen on hard times. Living with her manager/boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto), Jackie cleans houses and numbs her pain with alcohol. While her management is eager to get her back in the ring, she resists returning to that life as much as she can. Everything changes when Jackie is unexpectedly reunited with the son she abandoned long ago (Danny Boyd Jr.) at the same time the chance of her career lands in her lap.
Halle Berry’s first time in the director’s chair yields strong and confident results.
Watching Halle Berry’s direction at work in Bruised, the confidence is undeniably present in every frame. For a veteran actor-turned-first-time director, this is exactly the result you’d expect to see when someone like Ms. Berry decides to try their hand behind the camera. This leads to an overall strong handling of a story that could have merely gone through the motions. That temptation in particular is strong throughout this narrative, as we do get some of the usual pitfalls and temptations that present themselves in the name of adversity.
Some sequences in the finished movie could have used a little more polish, like the climactic third act bout that Jackie Justice takes part in. Some of the editing in that sequence in particular feels a bit too jumpy, but it eventually settles down. Also, the number of montages seems a little overdone, which feels like the movie is relying a little too much on that particular tradition. Aspects such as these are small notes when compared to the solid result that’s delivered by Halle Berry, as well as her cast and crew.
The balance between sports drama and personal drama can get a bit mixed, but the film’s aim is true.
Looking at the story of Bruised, the genre of inspirational sports movie is absolutely served well. Writer Michelle Rosenfarb’s tale of a woman whose fighting career has been bookended by personal trauma allows Jackie Justice’s story to play out rather differently than you’d expect. Moments like Halle Berry’s character confronting her mother (Adriane Lenox) about an abusive childhood represent the personal drama the film has to offer, and if that were the sole focus, we might have seen an emotional knockout taking place.
A drama of personal and sporting stakes can mix into an effective narrative, as we’ve seen before in Remember The Titans, Warrior and even the Rocky/Creed franchise. That last example feels like an inspiration to Bruised, straight down to the core of its story and through those two montages. Even with a slightly uneven tone, there’s a firm level of family values present in this MMA drama. Making the bloody sport of choice for this film even more of a stark contrast to the personal affairs of Halle Berry’s lead, you can still root for Jackie Justice in the ring while believing she can become a better mother.
Bruised is not only a stoic directorial debut; it’s a sports movie that isn’t afraid to do what’s done before in a more brutal fashion.
Bruised takes the classic story of the underdog, and the equally memorable quest for a wayward parent to do right by their child, and mixes them into an unlikely, but emotionally-charged package. Halle Berry’s directing shows that she’s ready to add a new title to her resume, and hopefully will find another project to do so in the future. Unafraid to show a flawed protagonist engaging in behavior you wouldn’t normally find in the more PG-rated version of this sort of story, heart and brutality coexist pretty well on this playing field.
One final triumph that this movie should wear on its sleeve is the fact that for as many opportunities as Bruised has to fall into maudlin happiness, its heroine truly earns her path. Jackie Justice is faced with many moments where grand gestures, speeches and even romance could detail her story. Almost as if the film itself could sense its audience calling it out for really wanting a “happy ending,” there are turns that let Jackie exist as more of a three-dimensional human being. It makes all the difference, as those decisions elevate what could have been a stock sports drama into something the viewer can grapple and ultimately cheer with as they watch.
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