Bruised is a dumb, derivative riff on Rocky, yet another work of deglamorization that fails to scrape beyond its grimy surface.
It seems only appropriate that a film like Bruised would be Halle Berry’s directorial debut. As a performer, Berry has always exhibited fierce commitment, yet authenticity has never been her most reliable tool. Even in her Oscar-winning role in Marc Forster’s Monster’s Ball — as dubious an accolade as ever after last year’s laughable slate of awards — she was never truly convincing, a chasm between the emotionally distraught character at its center and the actress who, quite simply, was going way too hard. It’s case study enough in her dramatic limitations, as establishing genuine emotional connection with the material seems entirely out of her reach, regardless of the number of tears and wails. Films like Die Another Day and Catwoman, awful as they may be, actually do best at playing to her particular strengths, allowing Berry to project steely determination and kick all sorts of ass, but never asking her to do any sort of psychological or emotional heavy lifting. All of which is to say that Bruised, in which Berry also stars, is exactly the wrong kind of star vehicle, one that allows her to indulge her actorly tendencies in ways that ultimately do the performance no favors. It helps little that her entire performance — and, by extension, the film around her — feels like a calculated grab at more awards glory, a return to the well of deglamorization that brought her Oscar fame so many years ago.
Berry stars as Jackie Justice, a famous MMA fighter who, as the film opens, is shown literally running and crawling away from the cage after a particularly brutal opponent defeats her in the first round. Cut ahead four years, and Jackie is cleaning toilets and living with her volatile and abusive boyfriend/manager, Desi (Adan Canto), trading in the fighting cage for endless bottles of booze and cartons of Marlboros. But Jackie is afforded a chance at redemption when a big-wig promoter (Shamier Anderson) happens to catch her opening up a giant can of whoop-ass during an impromptu bloodbath at an underground venue. Soon, she has a Zen trainer named Buddhakan (Sheila Atim) who teaches her how to conquer both her internal and external demons, of which there are plenty. While this should provide more than enough material for one film, first-time screenwriter Michelle Rosenfarb ladles on roughly twenty more subplots, none of which are given the time to properly develop, even at a punishing 129 minutes. There’s the introduction of Jackie’s six-year-old son, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), who she abandoned as a baby and who is dropped off at her doorstep after the death of his father (he also refuses to talk, because of course he does). Then we get Jackie’s troubled relationship with her mother, Angel (Adriane Lenox), a pill-popping alcoholic who doubles as a drug dealer. A romantic relationship is another unnecessary ingredient that pops up out of nowhere between Jackie and Buddhakan, on top of Jackie’s troubles with her current boyfriend. And that’s not even mentioning Jackie’s history of sexual abuse as a child that randomly gets brought up because Rosenfarb seems intent on continuously punishing her female lead in some misguided attempt to engender sympathy.
Berry tries desperately to render these events as realistically as possible, employing a handheld camera for a majority of the film’s running time and setting its action in hardscrabble locales. But this formal approach is at complete odds with the formulaic melodrama that fuels the film, and feels about as authentic as Berry’s performance, which is completely defined by its attention to superficial detail. See Berry’s beautiful face sans make-up, covered in blood and bruises; see Berry take a piss on a toilet while smoking a cigarette; see Berry fill a spray bottle with scotch and pump it directly into her mouth; see Berry complete the entire checklist of rough living. Everything here is so calculated that it feels like little is left beyond mere manipulation, authenticity lost to the hell of “authenticity.” Exhibit A: Berry and/or Rosenfarb goes her/their way to wallow in Jackie’s alcoholism, littering the film with countless instances of prehab miserabilism, but fails to offer any struggles or repercussions when she decides to kick the habit cold turkey after her first day of training. This allows Bruised to instead focus on Berry’s purchase of an electronic keyboard for her troubled son, the only thing that gives him respite from the godforsaken situation into which he has been thrust, and which will surely meet its demise at the hands of the abusive Desi. And it’s not even worth getting into how another character’s alcoholism and relapse is shrugged off with a joke at the film’s end. Bruised desperately wants to be the 21st-century, female Rocky, but musters only caricature in its derivative construction. Bruised is down for the count.
You can currently stream Halle Berry’s Buised on Netflix.