The people who came up with Bruised could have had the remainder of the afternoon off, when they decided on the title. A movie about the brutal cage-fighting and hard-hitting realm of mixed martial arts it also doubles up to describe the shooting arrows and slings of fucked-up fortune that plagues its main character, Jackie Justice. It's clearly a dream project for the first-time director Halle Berry — who also plays Justice and you can feel the passion throughout every frame. However, Bruised appears to be a heavy blend of lazy sports-flick chestnuts (sample speech: "You were born to fight") and melodrama that is tired that is shot with typical Sundance style of film, which doesn't have an original voice to match the director's deep appreciation for the subject.
Jackie Justice is a 10-0 MMA champion who, in agreeing to a poor-choice fight by her trainer/manager Desi (Adan Canto), is beaten by Lady Killer (UFC pro Valentina Shevchenko) and leaves her career in disarray. The story picks up four years after Michelle Rosenfarb's screenplay lays on a stale plot idea concept: she's cleaned-up fighter who conceals her alcohol addiction by hiding the booze in squeezy bottles cleaner; an unstable woman who is entrusted with the son (Danny Boyd Jr.) who she lost in the past six years, who refuses to talk after his father was killed as well as a daughter with an difficult connection to her mom (Adriane Lenox) who has turned her back on violence in her youth (this part is brutally crowbarred). There's too much going on in this story that there's not enough time to let the characters breathe, or for the drama to build.
Berry is great with her actors and injects a lot of energy, but she mostly shoots the film with the style of an indie-by-numbers film.
This is before we go into the story of the sport. After Desi lures her back to fighting with a brutal underground show, Jackie catches the eye of the bigger, attractive management Immaculate (Shamier Anderson) she is picked to be a part of a live telecast of a fight against Lady Killer and places her under the guidance of the Zen-like but hard-core Coach Buddhakan (Sheila Atim). The bond that develops between Jackie with Buddhakan can be the best and most effective portion that is Bruised, Berry and Atim creating a bond that is fluid and is impressive in a way that the rest of the movie 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. In atypical fashion for this genre, the film doesn't provide any warm-up battles to show the kind of condition Jackie will be in (you aren't sure if she's going to win or be beaten). If the bout occurs to be fair, and is a great showcase for her athleticism. However, an additional aspect to the fight is a bit of bathos.
Berry as a director is (perhaps not surprisingly) proficient with her actors. She can inject flashes of energy into long running times however, she generally shoots her film with an indie-by-numbers style, using fake grit and hand-held cameras using a lot of close-ups to illustrate her points. For her part as an actor Berry reduces her film-star wattage (as widely reported by removing her make-upand yet she is Jackie's inside and external strengths (as an director, she ensures you are aware that the actor has been doing the work). It's an ambitious start however, it may also the film eats more than it could chew.