The actress Halle Berry makes her directorial debut with “Bruised,” a film that uses the predictable beats of a fighter’s comeback to create a showcase for hard-hitting performances.
Berry stars in the film as Jackie Justice, a former mixed martial arts star who has been beaten down by alcoholism and an abusive relationship with her longtime manager, Desi (Adan Canto). When Jackie is recruited to a new fighting league, she is beaten there, too. But her outlook changes when her young son, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), who she once abandoned, is deposited on her doorstep. His vulnerability forces Jackie to confront the failures of her past and to build more positive circumstances in her own life. She forges ahead with training — nurturing a constructive connection with a new coach, Buddhakan (Sheila Atim).
Berry keeps the pace of her film slow. There is never any doubt that Jackie will find redemption, but the movie takes its time rising out of abjection, taking almost masochistic satisfaction from witnessing the humiliations that come before a triumph.
Berry externalizes Jackie’s depressive state through her shaky camera and desaturated color palette. At times the movie threatens to fade away into anonymous browns and grays, but as a director, Berry draws energy from the intensely physical performances. Berry puts her cast, herself included, through the paces of performing the brutal grind of the boxing ring, the release of hard drinking and the catharsis of intimate sex. With the camera quick to pick up on displays of blood, sweat and tears, every drop of tenderness feels hard won.