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'Bruised' review: Halle Berry is a knockout in a recycled fighter film

Despite the formulaic material, Berry hasn’t lost an ounce of that star quality that won her an Oscar for “Monster’s Ball.”

A down-and-out fighter. A troubled home life. A training montage. A big bout at the end. This tired format is so baked into Hollywood films by now, that win or lose, there are no surprises left to mine.

That’s definitely true of “Bruised,” Halle Berry’s capable directorial debut in which she also plays Jackie Justice, a once great mixed-martial-arts fighter who dropped off the face of the earth after a bad loss four years earlier. Now she works as a maid and sits outside New Jersey convenience stores.

movie review

Running time: 129 minutes. Rated R (pervasive language, some sexual content/nudity and violence). On Netflix Wednesday.

She’s ready to get back in the ring and make some much-needed dough when, unexpectedly, the toddler she left with her ex is dropped at her house. The boy’s loving father was shot and killed, so Jackie trains while her sonManny (Danny Boyd Jr.), who doesn’t speak, lives with her and her abusive boyfriend, Desi (Adan Canto).

She tolerates her beau’s violent outbursts, physically assaults a boy whose family’s house she cleans, is an alcoholic to the point that she hides booze in a window cleaner squirt bottle, has crippling panic attacks in public and her face is constantly covered in blood. Sheesh!

The difficulty — some might say complexity — of watching “Bruised” is that a real happy ending would be Child Protective Services coming to take this sweet kid to a better home. Not a negligent adult returning to form in a fight in Atlantic City. 

Halle Berry
Halle Berry, right, plays an MMA fighter named Jackie Justice in “Bruised.”
John Baer / Netflix / The Hollywood Archive

Still, there are some layered relationships formed at the gym owned by Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), particularly with Buddhakan, a trainer played by the sensational British actress Sheila Atim. A blazing comet onstage, it’s about time Atim showed up on-screen stateside. I’m also a huge fan of wisdom-radiating actor Stephen McKinley Henderson, who plays Pops. 

Berry wears two hats effortlessly. Her direction is gritty and assured, and her leading performance hasn’t lost an ounce of that star quality — to simultaneously be so weak and so strong — that won her an Oscar for “Monster’s Ball.” The only reason you like this hot mess of a person is that it’s Berry who plays her.

Next time, put it to better use in a movie with some originality.

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