BRUISED (2021) - Review - We Are Movie Geeks


BRUISED (2021) – Review

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So, did last week’s big release, KING RICHARD, spark your interest in “female-centric” sports flicks? Maybe just a bit, eh? Well, we’ve got one just in time for the holiday weekend. Oh, but there’s a couple of differences here, It’s a fiction film, though it’s set in the very real world of Women’s Mixed Martial Arts competitions. Feels like the last time we saw ladies squaring off was in 2004’s Oscar-winner MILLION DOLLAR BABY. Speaking of the golden statue, the star of this new film has one for acting. Plus she’s making her feature directing debut with this tale of an aging fighter whose body and psyche are almost broken and achingly BRUISED.

Without a big “backstory” (or even an “origin”), we’re immediately dropped into a terrible day for MMA fighter Jackie Justice AKA “Pretty Bull” (Halle Berry). It’s a big championship bout and she’s being so brutally pummeled that she climbs over the barricades of their ring, referred to as the “octagon”. With her career pretty much toast, she’s reduced to cleaning the homes of “rich folks”. But an altercation with the son of one of her clients squelches that. On the way home, she tries to drown her sorrows before facing the wrath of her ex-manager and current beau Desi (Adan Canto). He’s peeved alright, though he decides to take her away for the night. But it’s a surprise to Jackie when they end up at an “underground’ fighting club. Desi’s hoping to sign up some new “talent’ as many of the patrons recognize Jackie. Then one of the fighters challenges her which unleashes her fury, impressing gym owner/fight promoter Immaculate ( Shamier Anderson). He hands his card to a dismissive Jacke and implores her to get down to his gym and contact a trainer named Buddhakan. When the couple returns home they’re surprised by a visit from Jackie’s insulting pill-popping mother (Adriane Lenox) who drops off Manny (Danny Boyd, Jr.) the seven-year-son Jackie had left with her ex soon after he was born. He was an undercover cop who was “found out” and murdered in front of the boy which literally left him speechless (not a word to anyone). Since she’s a mother again, Jackie decides to take the offer to return to fighting. At the gym, she meets that trainer, who prefers Bobbi (Shelia Atim). So can the aging (for the MMA bouts) Jackie balance her training with her new paternal responsibilities and deal with her physically abusive boyfriend and her verbally dismissive mother? She’s gotta’ stock up on aspirin and ice packs.

Berry convincingly transforms into the battered, but still standing Jackie J. She looks confident and more than a bit dangerous in the “octo” projecting a fierce attitude we’ve never seen, even in her “hero” roles like Storm, Jinx, and…ahem…Catwoman. But as tough as she is in a bout, out in the “world’ Berry shows us that JJ is unsteady even a bit fragile as her personal battles (with Desi, with her mama) almost put her down for the count. Her ‘rescuer” may be the “little” man she’s got to rescue and raise. Berry expertly portrays every facet of this complex character. Luckily Jackie’s got great support and rapport with Atim’s Bobbi, who proves to be a great scene partner to Berry. Akim goes from “out there” sage (we first see her chanting a mantra) to a tough taskmaster with Jackie and a very cool “big sister’ to Manny. And later we see her vulnerable side as things get more intense away from the gym. Canta has a brutish charm as Desi while building to the moment when he unleashes the ugly beast straining to burst forth. Young Boyd proves to be a superb pantomimist as the silent manny, while Lenox sells the role of Jackie’s passive-aggressive drug and booze-addled mama, though she’s secretly proud of her offspring.

And yes, this is Berry’s behind-the-camera debut, doing double duty with a confident storytelling skill (with a script by another first-timer Michelle Rosenfarb). Berry captures the hopelessness and squalor of life in the shabby mean streets (mainly Newark here) making us feel the cold and the grime (and almost smelling the sweat and filth). Much of that sweat covers the gym, while the fighters seem to slide in the blood at the bouts. We feel Jackie’s frustrations (Manny’s wall of silence can’t be shattered) and her triumphs (the Atlantic City hotel suite is almost a palace). It does go to the training montage “well” too often, and the near-constant hip-hop-infused score can be numbing. Plus a third-act romantic tryst feels tossed in for titillation (aren’t fighters supposed to, y’know, abstain before a big match). But it’s a splendid first feature helmed by Berry and for those who are curious about the subject matter, it’s a great way to get really close to the action without ending up BRUISED.

2.5 Out of 4

BRUISED streams exclusively on Netflix starting on Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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