Academy Award winner Halle Berry makes her directorial debut with Bruised, a mixed martial arts (MMA) sports film with effective bone-crunching action that makes the veteran actress's performance admirable. She stars as Jackie Justice, a former disgraced (I mean, really?) MMA fighter who is content in her life cleaning up after others as a housekeeper. She is unsanctioned to fight the top female fighter, Lady Killer (Valentina Anatoliev). A Russian soldier is known for her killer speed and tenacious fighting style (oh, and a good twenty years younger).
Written by M.N. Miller
She doesn't stand a chance, but that doesn't matter to Immaculate (Stowaway's Shamier Anderson), the MMA league owner who sees big dollar signs coming his way. He wants her to fight in his league, the Invicta FC, then she will get her shot back in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) league. It's a blatant way for him to build the female fight brand. Again, those dollar signs don't pay for themselves. Of course, it helps get the piss and shit kicked out of you when you find the proper motivation. Justice finds out her infant son she gave up for adoption, who is now named Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), is now back in the system because his father died. He is now six years old.
Bruised was supposed to star Blake Lively before Berry swooped in and became the director and decided to cast herself. She is good in Bruised. Very good. The sheer physical demands of the role on top filmmaking responsibilities must have been enormous. You wish the film had something new to say or, at the very least, didn't resort to such typical cliches. Though, you can't even dock points for having Berry, one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a Hollywood screen, star as an MMA fighter. Because if we have learned anything, blood sports in the UFC is that marketing has everything to do with sex appeal. The UFC has been doing that for years.
I would have liked to have seen Ms. Berry's concentration solely been behind the camera for her first feature. Like Ben Affleck's success with Gone Baby Gone— though I'm sure a selling point for the studio had Berry star and reduce the cost to help with financing (again, the marketing will always be king). Her film does have an excellent sense of authenticity, particularly the fight scenes that can be brutal. She even reportedly axed former UFC fighter Cat Zingano from the movie when she no longer worked for the promotion (though that may have more to do with corporate sponsorship than anything). The film looks and feels natural. The fight scene parallels what I consider one of the best sports movies this last 20-years, Warrior. But it more than holds its own. That credit goes to Berry who insists on fast and tight fight camera work during the film’s fight scenes.
Think of Bruised as starting where Rocky 5 began. The one where Sly was a washed boxer and fought a fighter named Tommy in the streets while Rocky mends a relationship with his son. Here, the script, by Michelle Rosenfarb, is realistic and unwavering in its fight scenes. However, the viewer is pummeled with an excessive amount of cliches that are like trope-a-dope. There is nothing new to offer here other than the film comes from a female fighter perspective, but done much more effectively in the Michelle Rodriguez vehicle, Girlfight. The story is much more visceral as it was in the ring as it was outside it.
While Halle Berry's performance will win over fans of the genre where the down on your luck fighter picks themselves off the mat, they will give Bruised's script a pass. However, the film is too insincere in its intimate moments and far too predictable in its plot points to recommend wasting your time or money on.