Brave but absolutely fantastic, Halle Berry Bruised’s directorial debut is an emancipation story about a character who feels more at home inside cages. Literally; Jackie Justice used to be an MMA fighter with a promising career ahead of her, but now she’s broke and in a toxic relationship.
When the six-year-old son she gave up for adoption as a baby lands on her doorstep without warning, Jackie is forced to confront the mess her life is in and make an attempt to get him back on track. Because Bruised is a sports movie, any reasonably experienced viewer can guess how it will end. The challenge, as always, lies in making Jackie’s journey engaging.
But unfortunately for all of us, Berry has loaded (herself) with a script that simply refuses to take risks. I’m not kidding, but her most challenging blow against stereotypes is a scene where Jackie poops. The scene could have been set pretty much anywhere else, but the choice to place it inside a toilet is endlessly fascinating because, as we all know, the characters in the movies are not number two.
Nor do they continue to chase a person who leaves a house angry beyond a certain point; they always stop at the door and knock on them, as if they have been blocked by an invisible force field. Jackie runs like this twice in Bruised, but neither her estranged mother nor her abusive boyfriend (who have contributed equally to breaking her spirit) have the ability to break this cliché.
Bruised isn’t even the best MMA movie out there; That honor must go to Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, starring Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy. But even though it’s set in a world Hollywood hasn’t quite understood (they make 10 boxing movies every year, but none about the UFC), Bruised really doesn’t stand out. Jackie could well have been a chess player like Beth Harmon, or a player like William Tell from The Card Counter.
Part of the reason for this is that Berry is confused about what movie she wants to make. The balance between the personal and the professional that Darren Aronofsky achieved so well in The Wrestler is hardly found here. Instead, Michelle Rosenfarb’s script by numbers abbreviates both aspects of Jackie’s story. Her relationship with her son plays out tenderly, but she relies too much on jarring plot developments and sudden revelations to feel authentic.
And on the other hand, the final showdown, which, of course, is a long-standing fight for redemption and respect, doesn’t get the preparation it needed. There’s also the problem of some very important narrative doors that Berry opens, completely forgetting to close behind her as she charges into the fight in the third act.
It must be said, and this should not surprise us, that Berry is more skilled as an actor than as a director. Jackie is exactly the kind of inarticulate but deeply passionate character that the Oscar winner plays so well. A couple of flashes, however, suggest that you would do better as a filmmaker with a different script, and perhaps without the added pressure of having to play such a demanding role.