de facto film reviews 2 stars

Oscar-winner Halle Berry pulls double-duties as director/star in her directorial debut Bruised, a Rocky wannabe that struggles to offer much in terms of nuance or truth in a tired, overlong sports drama.

Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) is a washed-up MMA fighter still reeling from an embarrassing loss. Retired from fighting and living a low-rent job that struggles to make ends meet and sporting an alcohol addiction, Jackie lives with her former manager/no-good boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto). Her way of living is disrupted by the arrival of her young son that she abandoned years ago after the death of her ex. With her newfound responsibilities, Jackie decides to step back into the ring in hopes of finding redemption.

Bruised gives Berry the opportunity to sink her teeth into the gruff, down-on-her-luck Jackie and her performance has authenticity to spare, but is surrounded by hokey writing and overwrought drama. Running at an excessive 129 minutes, Berry’s narrative is clumsily told and strangely lacks a pulse. The first hour is largely a slog to get through with inconsistent tonal swings and an uninspired subplot involving Jackie’s boyfriend taking up much of the time that could’ve been spent elsewhere. Somewhat surprisingly, Berry doesn’t build its the films emotional stakes in a thematically coherent fashion. By the time the film does pick up steam when it hits the expected sports movie beats, its past the halfway mark.

Berry’s confidence as a filmmaker comes through more clearly in the films energetic training montages and the inspirational trappings of the genre. Jackie’s relationship with her young son becomes endearing as the character’s tough exterior slowly melts way. Jackie’s trainer, Budahakan (an excellent Sheila Atim), is given a compelling dynamic when the two start to bond and eventually fall for each other. When Jackie steps in the ring, Bruised flirts with success as the climactic fight is brutal, hard-hitting and simply rousing. Berry’s staging is more than competent and wrings genuine emotion out of the climax. The all-female soundtrack, curated by Berry and Cardi B, features the likes of H.E.R., Saweetie, City Girls and Flo Milli among others, is well selected, giving the film a much needed energy.

Halle Berry’s committed performance isn’t enough to overcompensate for the lack of compelling drama. Bruised is an uneven mid of domestic drama and by-the-books sports film. Belly shows a knack for wringing strong performances out of a mostly likable cast and some skilled visual flair in the fighting sequences, but doesn’t hold a firm enough grasp of tone or length, and the script fails to offer much in terms of fresh ideas.