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Hollywood star Halle Berry’s directorial debut is a gritty look at the struggles faced by many MMA fighters, and while her dedication to the role is admirable, the film ultimately collapses under the weight of its own clichés.
Sports movies have been notoriously difficult fare for Hollywood to tackle – particularly fight sports. Sylvester Stallone set the blueprint in 1976 with his Oscar-winning film ‘Rocky’, and that script hasn’t been deviated from much in the ensuing 40-something years: long-shot fighter fighter faces adversity but secures a personal triumph (while not actually winning) against all the odds.
This is precisely the landscape in which Berry sets ‘Bruised’, which was released on Netflix this week after an opening run in cinemas. While Berry’s performance and dark, nuanced handling of directorial duties deserves significant credit, the film too often trades in pastiche to stand toe-to-toe with the genre’s pound-for-pound best.
Berry plays Jackie ‘Pretty Bull’ Justice, a former UFC fighter who left the promotion in disgrace after forfeiting a fight – the hangover of which has haunted her ever since. Once one of the world’s top fighters, Justice now works as a housekeeper and battles an alcohol dependency but is convinced to get back to throwing fists by her abusive boyfriend and manager.
After beating the tar out of a fighter named ‘Werewolf’, played by real-life fighter Gabi Garcia, Justice is convinced to join the all-female fight league Invicta and enters a strict training regiment to get back into fighting shape.
So far, so familiar.
Justice then reunites with her young son whom she hasn’t seen since he was an infant, prompting her to re-learn how to be a mother while simultaneously reacquainting herself with her craft in the cage.
Justice is then placed into a rivalry with Lucia ‘Lady Killer’ Chavez, played by UFC flyweight world champion Valentina Shevchenko, which acts as the film’s crescendo and, well, we’re sure that your imagination can take it from there.
The final fight scene is by far the highlight of the film, and something to which painstaking choreography was clearly applied. It should be stressed that the 55-year-old Berry deserves significant praise for her devotion not just to the role but to elements of mixed martial arts which can’t easily be captured on film without significant training – but occasionally some of the sequences border on professional wrestling pantomime.
Others clearly don’t, however, as evidenced by the broken ribs Berry claims she received in one of her scenes with the bruising Shevchenko.
But despite hitting the right notes in the final 30 minutes or so, the film suffers from a lack of streamlining and has no business being just shy of 2 hours and 15 minutes in duration.
Several elements seem to be shoehorned in, particularly a lesbian sex scene which appears to come absolutely out of nowhere and isn’t really addressed again.
That’s one reason why, despite its positive traits, the film ultimately feels hollow. The redemptive arc undertaken by Berry’s character has been seen before and doesn’t attempt to offer anything new to the shopworn tale of a down-on-their-luck fighter, something one feels could have been more deftly handled given the film’s substantial running time.
And that’s the fundamental issue with ‘Bruised’. Berry is excellent and there’s a good film in there somewhere, but too often does it borrow from its influences to be considered anything but a pretender rather than a legitimate contender.
By John Balfe
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.