Netflix UK film review: Bruised
James R | On 24, Nov 2021
Halle Berry has long been one of the most underrated stars working in Hollywood, with a CV full of roles that more often than not have wasted her talents rather than give her something rounded to sink her teeth into. Bruised corrects that in one sharp blow, as Berry steps up to play a mixed martial arts fighter battling for redemption.
If that sounds like a tale you’ve heard before, that’s the one problem facing Bruised, as it circles the ring of sports movie cliches with familiar footwork. We join Jackie Justice (Berry) years after she stepped away from the MMA scene, ashamed by a defeat that left her reeling. Now, she lives with her boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto), a dubious sort who marks himself out as a wrong ‘un after he coaxes her into a bar fight. The one positive to come out of that is the attention of a fight promoter (Shamier Anderson), who spies an opportunity for a comeback. But just as she starts to shape up for the challenge, her life is derailed by the appearance of Manny (Danny Boyd Jr), her son who she gave up as an infant.
The script, from first-timer Michelle Rosenfarb, packs in every underdog convention you can think of, whether that’s anger management problems or younger fighters who think our her is past it, and then adds on top a domestic drama that tackles subjects of abuse and independence, not to mention grappling with the demands of parenthood. It’s a lot to juggle, and Bruised doesn’t always keep the balls in the air, with the second half of the film slowing to a sluggish pace when it tries to also explore Jackie’s relationship with her mum (Adriane Lenox).
The cast make sure the end result packs a punch, however, with particular standouts including Danny Boyd Jr as the quietly resilient innocent watching from the sidelines and a scene-stealing Sheila Atim (The Underground Railroad) as Jackie’s calm but tough coach, Buddhakan, who brings a fresh energy and intriguing dynamic to the web of complex relationships. Berry, meanwhile, relishes the chance to prove her chops in the title role, swinging for every beat going and hitting them with emotional and physical force. Her camerawork, too, knows when to tilt and lean into her character’s drive and when to leave us feeling dizzy and spinning out from the fight.
If Bruised had more focus and did something more surprising, it would be a heavyweight contender. As it is, it’s a long overdue showcase for Halle Berry – and that’s no bad thing.
Bruised is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.