A big weekend for sports fans is upon us. Arecibo won the BSN championship, Michael Chiesa is fighting Sean Bray on the 20th, and two sports films are being released: Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard and Halle Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised.
I have always been interested in martial arts and different fighting techniques. Heck, I don’t want to brag, but I did some Taekwondo when I was younger, and I reached the black belt second dan. However, as I grew older, my interest shifted toward the more brutish physicality of MMA and the UFC. One combat style against the other in a fight for submission or knockout. It’s exciting!
Mixed martial arts are rarely seen on the big screen. The most well-known example is probably Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior (2011), which showcases the brutality of the fighting while intertwining it with a narrative about brotherhood, isolation, and vindication. In a way, all fights center around redemption and reaching the top of the pecking order. That is also what Halle Berry seems to want to accomplish in her story about a fighter seeking redemption after leaving the sport in disgrace. Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) has lived in regret since the fight that seemingly ended her career. An altercation at an underground fight club gets the attention of a promoter (Shamier Anderson). He promises Justice a chance to get back in the octagon.
There is a reason why I left the plot synopsis there as is. You can probably figure out for yourself what is going to happen next. That isn’t a bad thing in its entirety. There are a lot of predictable sports films out there. However, their climatic strikes are wrought and heavy so that by the end, the story’s impact is still felt. In the case of Bruised, even with all the punches and kicks being thrown, there isn’t any heft. It wants to be the Rocky of the MMA world, but its combatant isn’t particularly interesting. What are the causes of this innate disconnect?
First, its script is tailored to be the classic comeback story about someone fighting their inner demons through the sport. By starting off with such an overdone arc, it plagues itself with the “deja-vu” effect. Every single scene that comes on-screen has been seen before: the tropes served by each character, the plot points, the fighting montages. It's page-by-page bromide. Second, there isn’t any physicality in the fights. In Warrior, the viewer feels the pain and sting of each hit, consequently hooking the audience. Bruised also hurts its cause with a lack of creativity in the sound design (there are no beating or pulsing rhythms to be found) that limits the tension of the brawls to something purely visual.
Additionally, the fight choreography is awkward and unrealistic. Real fights aren’t supposed to look like that. Bruised’s fights are the equivalent of Rocky fights, but with a UFC style. Punches are being thrown left and right, yet both fighters are not guarding or blocking each hit. The defense finally comes into play during the last round, just so that the underdog would have a chance at winning the fight (even though it's obvious the character is going to lose). The depictions come off as underresearched and unpassionate, depriving viewers who do watch and know MMA of a proper cinematic experience. Lastly, Halle Berry’s directing is amateurish. It is quite obvious that Bruised is her first attempt at directing a feature film. Unfortunately, her choices in overseeing the final product, especially its editing and camerawork, are deplorable.
To make this type of “safe” sports project, it needs a centerpiece. Someone who we all want to root for by the end (Rocky Balboa, Dottie Hinson, or Maggie Fitzgerald), and Bruised lacks one because its story is so uninteresting. Berry’s direction and technique may improve through experience; not many actors-turned-directors find their footing on their first attempt. Nevertheless, Halle Berry’s directorial debut isn’t a fight worth watching. The rough-and-tumble submits itself to cliches and unoriginal story arcs so passively that you’ll wish it would end by the first round. It’s an overly safe attempt at an underdog story with abhorrent execution.
Bruised will be streaming on Netflix starting Nov. 24.