Bruised film review: Halle Berry directs a sputum-flecked fight flick

The epic closing fight scene makes this Netflix film worth sticking with

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Director: Halle Berry
Cert: Club
Genre: Sport
Starring: Halle Berry, Shamier Anderson, Adan Canto, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Valentina Shevchenko
Running Time: 2 hrs 18 mins

There is no shortage of antediluvian clichés in this sputum-flecked fight movie – a promising directorial debut from Halle Berry – but none is quite so painful as the more recently minted banality of inveigling Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah into a moment of emotional epiphany. Less tolerant Netflix viewers could at this point be forgiven for, ahem, throwing in the towel.

That would be a shame. Though everything takes a little longer than it should, Bruised tells the old story in impressively rude and hard-edged language. The director, looking impossibly fresh deep into her sixth decade, plays Jackie Justice, a once respected MMA fighter who now struggles obscurely with alcohol and poverty after being misused in a key fight. She hides booze in the kitchen bleach dispenser. She loses a cleaning job when she attacks the employer’s entitled son. Berry gets one of those painful scenes – harder to watch than the in-ring brutality that follows – where a mum has to choose what to remove from her shopping basket when the cashier reveals she has not enough cash.

The inevitable “one last chance at the big time” takes a while to arrive. Never mind. Though the pace is never exactly dashing, Berry creates such a convincingly fetid atmosphere that it proves no trial to coast along with Jackie as she reassembles her dignity and reconnects with her young son.

She could hardly encounter anyone more firmly in the cinematic tradition of veteran boxing trainers than that played by the great character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson. Berry and her cinematographer Frank G DeMarco – shooting in browns that allow the stock itself to reference the film’s title – make vibrant, buzzy use of the New Jersey locations. The inevitable training montage is funkier than usual.


What really makes Bruised worth sticking with, however, is the epic closing fight sequence. Facing up against the fearsome Lady Killer, played by Kyrgyzstani fighter Valentina Shevchenko, Jackie scraps and pokes in a fashion that is inelegant enough to convince as the real thing. Whatever else you might think of Berry’s decisions here, nobody could fault her for her work ethic or her courage. Hallelujah, hallelujah. . .

Streams on Netflix from November 26th. 

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist