Oscar-winning actor Halle Berry throws her hat in the ring as a director with her debut feature Bruised, an emotionally charged drama set in the world of MMA fighting. The Netflix film stars Berry as disgraced professional fighter Jackie, who left her promising career behind after she fled during an important fight. Four years later, she’s ready to make her comeback; but her life is complicated by the sudden appearance of her young son (Danny Boyd Jr), whom she left as an infant. Before she’s ready to face another opponent, she must first learn to fight her own demons.
The movie (which was penned by Michelle Rosenfarb in her first feature-length script) shares a lot of DNA with other underdog dramas in that it centres itself around a protagonist with a troubled past. When audiences first meet Jackie, she’s stuck in a dysfunctional relationship and has problems with alcohol and anger. Later, it’s even alluded to that she was abused as a child. While these plot points serve to characterise the protagonist in a sympathetic light, the film’s greatest strengths lie in the ways it subverts and deconstructs the familiar genre.
Bruised 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. Unlike conventional underdog stories, the final opponent isn’t presented as the main antagonist – in fact, they barely have any screen time. Rather, they’re just another hurdle that Jackie must overcome in the fight against herself. It’s a refreshing twist on a well-established formula that leads to a more satisfying payoff.
Driving everything forward is Berry’s phenomenal performance. She knocks it out of the park where it counts in her portrayal of 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.
There is a lot going on in this feature, however, and not every plot thread gets a gratifying resolution. Berry does a solid job as a director, but, for whatever reason, she’s unable to tie everything together into a cohesive whole. By the end, the noticeable gaps make for a disappointingly unfulfilling outing.
Bruised is released on Netflix on 17th November 2021.
Watch the trailer for Bruised here: