‘Bruised’ packs a punch and has plenty of heart, but a lack of focus leaves this fight film drowning in social drama
Halle Berry has been Hollywood royalty for over 20yrs having moved into acting following a successful early career in modelling. Coming from a background where looks are paramount meant her talent as an actor was always going to be questioned. But from her tough early roles such as a crack addict alongside Samuel L Jackson in Jungle Fever, she proved there was a beast hidden beneath the beauty.
She has repeatedly proved her ability and commitment to her craft and her Oscar win for Monsters Ball in 2001 was the ultimate validation. But unfortunately, there has also been a lack of consistency, where some of her role choices and performances could be considered questionable at best (she has been the Razzie winner on more than one occasion). This means with every release, fans are never sure which Halle they will get.
‘Bruised’ is Halle’s directorial debut and she has opted to also play the lead character. Pulling double duties like this can occasionally lead to a loss of quality due to shifting perspectives but Halle, as a veteran in the industry, attacks this project with all guns blazing. She handles the double duties with the skill and mastery of an artist who has been in the industry for years, paying equal attention to what happens both in front of and behind the camera.
Halle stars as Jackie ‘Pretty Bull’ Justice, a rising MMA fighter and headliner within the world-famous Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Her title shot doesn’t go to plan, and she is forced into early retirement from the sport. She lives with her loving yet aggressive manager/boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto) who still dreams of Jackie making a return to mixed martial arts and being a ticket out of their less than desirable lifestyle
Halle delivers a great multifaceted performance as Jackie. This is one of those occasions she demonstrates the star power and talent which has kept her as an ‘A’ lister for over 20years, despite those questionable films and performances. The supporting cast are solid and do what a supporting cast should do, which is help the star shine, which she does beautifully. Every scene Halle is in helps convey the gravatas of the characters situation. The strength, power and fitness of an MMA fighter, the vulnerability of someone who has failed and let so many people down in life are all on show.
Bruised unfortunately does suffer from an ‘overflow’ of dramatic issues. For her debut, Halle has thrown every human issue and the kitchen sink at this which leaves it feeling congestion. She attempts to tackle sexuality, identity, domestic violence, child abuse, violent parental death, childhood trauma and abandonment, alcohol abuse, and of course the central theme of the story, which is about a fighter. Most of these issues are mentioned, inferred, and never giving time to really breath and develop. There is just too much. It would have made more sense to pick one or two of those alongside the fighting storyline and really dig in.
This is supposed to be a movie about a fighter so the reference I make to Rocky in the title is deliberate. Infact, there are many parallels to Stallones classic, a former fighter, down on their luck given another chance at the top, even down to a training montage. Telling the story from a female point of view doesn’t feel forced or like pandering. The inclusion of real-life MMA fighters is also commendable and helps the films authenticity.
But that aside, the few fights there are while competent, didn’t raise pulses like a fight film should. Despite what was going on around, the focus, destination and payoff in a Rocky movie is always the fight. Bruised has so many dramatic strands running through it that prevent it from being considered a true ‘fight’ movie.
‘Bruised’ tries hard to be too many things to too many people. Halle is a mature actor who has at times had a turbulent personal life. She may have tried to cram too much life experience into this film which left it feeling overly congested. Halle shines in her performance yet the film almost drowns in an overabundance of drama and for a fight movie, there aren’t enough fights. Those that are there don’t raise pulses like they should.
A solid directorial debut from Halle Berry, slightly drowning in drama and social issues and missing that one truly explosive fight scene.