Halle Barry acts fiercely, harder and harder, striving to break both bones and gender stereotypes. But that doesn’t translate into smart performance
At the end of each year, you can almost feel the desperation of movies looking for Oscar nods. Some of these are made with an eye on juries prone to misery porn – and an Academy that rewards the art that sweats the most. They play on the age-old misconception about big cinema: that suffering must be visible. No narrative cliché is spared in pursuing the guilt of the average white voter in submission. bruised is the epitome of this culturally precise formula. It’s all there: a physically demanding role, the directorial debut of a veteran performer, Black America, a dark visual palette, a graphic sex scene, a queer arc, a story of abuse, a dumb child, and most importantly, a brutal sport in which athletes break and bleed the most. The agony of bruised is so obvious that Million dollar baby could be the DJ of this pity party.
There is no frame in bruised we have never seen it before. The simplistic gender reversal of his sports model as redemption means that bruised is an all-out showcase for Halle Berry – as an actress aiming for a second Oscar and a first-time filmmaker trying to make a statement.
The problem is the sheer number of critically acclaimed tropes wrapped in a single film, as if it was Berry’s only chance to get behind the camera. She plays a disgraced MMA fighter named Jackie Justice, who is touched by the abrupt arrival of an adopted six-year-old son as she contemplates a return to the ring. Then begins a game of musical chairs between his personal struggles and his professional return.
Now that you’ve read the premise, visualize it based on every generic boxing / martial arts / sports movie you’ve ever seen and you’d be right. The “how” unfolds exactly as one might imagine: Jackie is noticed in an unauthorized brawl in a basement by the founder of a flashy tournament; she receives a second blow from nowhere; she finds her son Manny sitting at her door in the rain; she bonds with Manny by protecting him from her toxic manager-boyfriend; she bonds with her new trainer, a serene lesbian named Bobbi ‘Buddhakan’ (Sheila Atim), thanks to her spirit of a single mother. Driving home the neat dark of Jackie’s journey is the fact that her child Manny does not speak – not a word – due to deep trauma. (You come from know that he’ll say that elusive word at the end, won’t he?). Jackie also has a sarcastic, semi-foreign mother with a drug addiction problem. Am I missing something? I think that’s all.
Somewhere along the way, Jackie is training, stumbling and getting back into championship form for a climactic title fight the resolution of which is so predictable that Rocky would call the cops. The action in the ring doesn’t look very convincing either – with the dramatically familiar rhythm of the fight – even though Halle Berry seems to be training like a true athlete. His muscles, however, cannot carry a flick that craves to be admired for his workout schedule.
It doesn’t help that, in the preparation for the fight, the other crutches in the story – the son, the lover – conveniently disappear for a while (as the brothers’ father, played by Nick Nolte, did. in warrior during their title fight). At first I thought maybe this was a new way to approach the lone wolf movie. The loneliness and selfishness of such protagonists are often neglected in favor of cinematographic circularity: romance, parenthood, adulthood. But in bruisedThere comes a point when Jackie even admits that she has no choice but to do it on her own, without any help or distraction. It is authentic in a way, even if it is not natural entertainment. So the movie itself blocks out peripheral noise – almost eliminating other characters – to allow Jackie to focus on her own calculations. But it’s also me who gives bruised too much credit. Because the bottom line is that the writing just doesn’t seem sure what to do with the other dimensions when the spotlight is in the ring. Not to mention how awkward it seems when the movie suddenly “forgets” its faces and changes tracks. It’s like an actor who can’t move when he’s off camera and we’re talking to him. The fact that the characters are finally brought back – after Jackie has had her moment of sap – only proves that the film was never intended to subvert popular perceptions.
I’m actually quite amazed that Halle Berry shows so much conviction in Michelle Rosenfarb’s outdated screenplay. Other than the long-awaited novelty of a female-led brawler story, I don’t know what else she noticed about bruised who made him wholeheartedly support the project. Its achievement is far from average, but it is derivative, which can be worse than average in sports dramas over two hours. As Jackie, however, she leaves everything in the ring. She acts fiercely, harder and harder, striving to break both bones and gender stereotypes. Still, it can be unpopular to claim that it doesn’t necessarily translate into smart performance. We can feel his blood, his sweat and his tears. But her portrait of femininity is painted in the colors of a pre-existing training montage. It’s like she wants us to recognize her efforts rather than seeing her art in a new light.
bruised, in that sense, is the oldest trick in the book. Due to the fact that this is a difficult production, it aims to be seen as a raw film. But all it ends up being is a lackluster remix of stubbornness, not stubbornness itself. After all, recycling waste is fine, but recycling goods is often waste.
bruised is streaming on Netflix India.
Rahul Desai is a film critic and programmer, who spends his spare time traveling to all the places in the films he writes about.