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review

Valentina Schevchenko as Lady Killer, fighting Halle Berry's Jackie Justice in Bruised. The film also marks Berry's directorial debut.John Baer/Netflix

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  • Bruised
  • Directed by Halle Berry
  • Written by Michelle Rosenfarb
  • Starring Halle Berry, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Shamier Anderson
  • Classification R; 129 minutes
  • Opens at select Canadian theatres Nov. 19; streaming on Netflix starting Nov. 24

Sports dramas are some of the most predictable films produced. A fallen hero or underdog has one chance to prove that they can win the big game while simultaneously battling whatever family drama (estranged or dead wife/parent/child). You don’t watch a film from the extended Rocky universe because you’re waiting for a profound plot twist. You watch them because you’re looking for the familiarity of a redemption arc.

With Bruised, the new film written by Michelle Rosenfarb and starring Halle Berry (who also makes her directorial debut here), the sports-drama formula is very slightly updated – mostly because the film focuses on a woman.

Berry in a scene with Danny Boyd Jr. as Manny Lyons Jr. in Bruised. Scenes between the two are among the most compelling in the film.John Baer/Netflix

Berry plays Jackie Justice, a former mixed martial arts, or MMA, fighter whose last bout ended in a career-ending defeat. Years later, she’s fallen far from grace. An alcoholic working odd jobs as a cleaner (though she always seems to get fired because of her anger issues), Jackie lives with her former manager and sometimes abusive boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto), who frequently begs her to get back into the ring.

With no prospects for steady employment, Jackie returns to fighting with the support of MMA league owner Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), who sets her up with Bobbi (Sheila Atim), another woman in a male-dominated space who attempts to train Jackie back into shape while also providing the stability that Jackie needs. Meanwhile, Jackie’s son, whom she abandoned years prior, ends up on her doorstep following his father’s death. Suddenly, Jackie’s motivations move beyond money.

Bruised is a well-directed debut: Berry understands how to make a competent sports drama complete with all the emotional training montages and passion that viewers expect. Plot-wise, though, Bruised doesn’t offer more than the genre has delivered time and time again, which is a shame because the film contains some remarkable performances.

In Bruised, Berry's character is a former mixed martial arts fighter whose last bout ended in a career-ending defeat. Years later, she has fallen far from grace.John Baer/Netflix

Berry does some of the best work of her career as Jackie, fighting for her life on multiple fronts. It’s refreshing to see a 55-year-old woman get the same opportunities any man would, and even more refreshing that her age isn’t an obstacle in the film at all. Still, the uneven script brings even the most authentic performances down.

Most compelling, ultimately, are the moments between Jackie and her estranged son, the latter of whom is so traumatized by his past that he cannot speak a word. We see a mother slowly fall into a relationship that she never wanted in the first place, and as a director, Berry provides the true emotional punches that the film otherwise pulls.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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