Bruised, Halle Berry’s feature directorial debut, premiered as a “work in progress” at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. It was taken up by Netflix with the intention of completing the picture as closely as possible to Berry’s original vision. The finished picture has opened at yet another film festival, the 2021 AFI Fest, with its reveal in Hollywood tonight, more than a year later. It will premiere in select cinemas on Wednesday, followed by a week later on Netflix.
In the end, there’s no doubt that Berry has poured all she’s got into this one and come out on top, not only acting-wise but also behind the camera, as you’d expect from the Oscar-winning star of Monster’s Ball. She expertly navigates a female-driven drama about a disgraced MMA fighter attempting to claw her way back to the top while piecing together the shards of her shattered personal life. This is a genre that was previously dominated onscreen by men, so despite the flaws of an overlong film that tries to cram too much story into a two-hour, 15-minute runtime, it’s refreshing to see it presented from a female perspective — not just with Berry in the director’s chair and as the lead character, but also with screenwriter Michelle Rosenfarb, who came up with the idea for the film, which was originally written for a 21-year-old.
When Berry got her hands on the script, she knew she’d have to make some significant changes in order to play it as a middle-aged Black woman. For the main character, Jackie Justice, who was kicked out of the ring years ago due to a controversy, it takes on a new level of seriousness. Her life falls apart, but her lover, Desi (Adan Canto), finds an opportunity to force her back into an underground fight, a terrible one, which turns lucky when Immaculate (Shamier Anderson) sees potential to bring her back into the spotlight and back into the Octagon.
When Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), the kid she put up for adoption as a baby, reappears in her life, complications arise. His appearance merely adds to her own self-doubts about the meaning of parenthood and duty. He is now a soulful young kid who does not speak. The story then shifts its focus between fights in and out of the ring, including Jackie’s intense conflicts with her mother Angel (an excellent Adriane Lenox), Desi’s growing problems, and a complicated relationship with trainer/coach Buddhakan (a stunning Sheila Atim) that turns romantic and complex, forcing Jackie to confront her long-buried feelings. One thing this drama movie has in common with so many other boxing movies is that it all boils down to, ahem, a brutal fight in the ring at the end.
Berry, who wowed audiences when she kicked ass in John Wick 3, has earned her action stripes, proving convincing and capable as an older, washed-up MMA fighter who tries to prove she can still do it against all odds. You’ve got to hand it to Berry. She adds a rich, three-dimensional turn as a lady who emerges from her previous mistakes to take stock of herself and change her life around. Berry is keenly aware of a strong role when she sees one, and she definitely sought to safeguard it by stepping into the director’s chair. What she lacks in subtlety in some instances, she makes up for with sheer determination to pull it off in the first place.
Among the rest of the ensemble, UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko, who makes for a good opponent as Lady Killer, and the sheer all-pro presence of Stephen McKinley Henderson as Pops, the calm voice of experience as she trains, kept me extremely engaged.
In terms of output, With professional editing from Jacob Craycroft and Terilyn Shropshire, as well as precise lensing from Frank G. Demarco and Joshua Reis, Berry put herself in good hands. There are nine producers and 12 executive producers listed, implying that it took a village to get this movie made. Berry aficionados should rejoice. So, you can watch this on 123Movies after you read this movie review.