Combustible Celluloid Review - Bruised (2021), Michelle Rosenfarb, Halle Berry, Halle Berry, Danny Boyd Jr., Sheila Atim, Adriane Lenox, Shamier Anderson, Adan Canto, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Valentina Shevchenko
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With: Halle Berry, Danny Boyd Jr., Sheila Atim, Adriane Lenox, Shamier Anderson, Adan Canto, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Valentina Shevchenko
Written by: Michelle Rosenfarb
Directed by: Halle Berry
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some sexual content/nudity and violence
Running Time: 132
Date: 11/24/2021

Bruised (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Guiding Fight

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While it contains the familiar beats of most sports movies, Halle Berry's directorial debut Bruised touches below the surface to find an organic sense of life, beaten and pummeled, yet persistent, hopeful.

Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) is a disgraced UFC fighter, having walked out of a fight four years ago. Now she lives with her abusive manger/boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto) and works as a maid. When Desi takes her to an underground match, the fighter "The Werewolf" (Gabi Garcia) challenges Jackie, and Jackie defeats her. This is witnessed by Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), an MMA league owner who thinks he can get Jackie a major fight.

But just then, Jackie's mother (Adriane Lenox) shows up with Jackie's young son, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), whose father has just died. As Jackie starts her training with Buddhakan (Sheila Atim) and Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson), she begins to face the difficult relationships she has with Desi and her mother, while growing closer to the supportive Buddhakan. But Jackie must get herself sharp if she's going to defeat her dangerous opponent, "Lady Killer" (Valentina Shevchenko).

The characters in Bruised feel like they have lived beyond the margins of the movie, formed well before its story begins and continuing on after it ends. Even if we may have seen parts of their personalities before, in this movie it feels as if they were formed by circumstance, and not just as a reference to older movies. Their behavior and reactions to one another often feels desperate, as if everyone were constantly teetering near the end of their rope. But there's also an immense strength to them, an ability to try again, no matter what.

Thanks to this extra special touch — Berry's searching, perceptive camera always seems to match the emotional tone of the scene — nothing feels manipulative or soapy. The performances are spectacular, especially a terrifying moment in which Jackie suffers a full-blown panic attack in a restaurant. Even the final fight is endlessly gripping, and impressive, as we watch Berry's character pull off moves that folks two decades her junior couldn't manage. Bruised goes on a bit too long, and takes some time to wrap up its many threads after the final fight, but it deserves a shot.

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