Bruised Review

Washed-up MMA fighter Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) is unemployed, in an abusive relationship with manager Desi (Adan Canto), gets landed with the son (Danny Boyd Jr) she abandoned and butts heads with her mother (Adriane Lenox). When the chance of a rematch with her greatest rival emerges, there is only one decision to make…

by Ian Freer |
Published on
Release Date:

17 Nov 2021

Original Title:


The creators of Bruised must have taken the rest of the day off when they came up with that title. A film about the hard-hitting, cage-fighting world of mixed martial arts, the sobriquet also double-teams as a description of the slings and arrows of fucked-up fortune that beset its protagonist, Jackie Justice. It’s clearly a passion project for first-time director Halle Berry — who also stars as Justice — and you can see the commitment in every frame. But Bruised emerges as an unwieldy mixture of lazy sports-flick chestnuts (sample dialogue: “You were born to FIGHT”) and tired melodrama, shot through with some standard Sundance film stylings, that never finds an originality of voice to mirror its director’s depth of feeling for the material.


Jackie Justice is a 10-0 MMA champ who, accepting an ill-advised fight arranged by her manager/trainer Desi (Adan Canto), suffers a heavy loss to Lady Killer (UFC pro Valentina Shevchenko), leaving her career in tatters. Picking up four years later, Michelle Rosenfarb’s screenplay layers on hackneyed plot idea after plot idea: she’s a washed-up fighter who hides her drink problem by secreting booze into squeezy bottles of cleaner; an on-the-edge woman who is saddled with the son (Danny Boyd Jr) she abandoned six years ago, who refuses to speak since his father was shot dead; a daughter with an uneasy relationship with her mother (Adriane Lenox) who turned a blind eye to abuse in her childhood (this element in particular is ham-fistedly crowbarred in). There is so much to deal with here that there is no time for the characters to breathe, for the drama to develop texture.

Berry is good with her actors and injects bursts of energy, but mostly shoots the film in an indie-by-numbers approach

And this is before we get to the sports story. After Desi tempts her back into fighting via a vicious underground meet, Jackie catches the eye of bigger, flashier manager Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), who cherry-picks her for a televised rematch with Lady Killer and places her under the wing of zen-like but bastard-hard coach Buddhakan (Sheila Atim). The relationship between Jackie and Buddhakan is the most successful part of Bruised, Berry and Atim developing a relationship that ebbs and flows and is convincing in a way the rest of the film isn’t. The ever-excellent Stephen McKinley Henderson does good Burgess Meredith business as Jackie’s corner man (the film could do with more of him), but the rest is the obligatory training sessions and getting-ready-for-the-fight montage. Unusually for the genre, the film doesn’t give us any warm-up fights to indicate what kind of shape Jackie is in (you have no idea whether she is going to triumph or get battered). The fight, when it comes, is decent enough, a strong showcase for Berry’s athleticism, but an addendum to the bout ends on a note of bathos.

Berry as a filmmaker is (perhaps unsurprisingly) good with her actors and injects bursts of energy into a lengthy running time, but mostly she shoots the film in an indie-by-numbers approach, all faux grit and hand-held cameras with an over-reliance on close-ups to make her point. As an actor, Berry dampens down her movie-star wattage — as widely reported, going make-up free — but inhabits Jackie’s inner and outer strength (as a director, she makes sure you know the actor is doing the hard yards). It’s an ambitious first effort, then, but perhaps bites off more than it can chew.

Not even Halle Berry’s presence can enliven this stale sports film-family drama mash-up. By the end of it, the barrage of clichés leaves you black and blue.  
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