Winner of multiple awards, the Halle Berry-directed film Bruised is a raw and often depressing, but ultimately uplifting depiction of an ex-female MMA fighter in survival mode, who is surprised one day to find the young son she abandoned, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), left on her doorstep. Jackie Justice (Berry), has fallen from grace — once a star fighter, she allowed the trauma of her past to dictate her future, so upon losing a key fight, she took many steps backwards, left the MMA, and began cleaning houses to survive, which is where this narrative begins.
There is little to no backstory for most of these characters: why did Jackie abandon her son, why did Manny’s father commit suicide, leaving him to Jackie to care for, why doesn’t Manny speak at all? Several questions like these pop up throughout, but the film is such a snapshot of Jackie’s current circumstances — now in a dysfunctional relationship, barely making ends meet, that this lack of narrative is forgivable because the focus is not so much on the past as it is on the future — what is she going to do now? She has been given an opportunity to return to fighting (an apropos metaphor for this woman’s life), and to care for the son she lost. The question remains, almost to the end of the film, whether she will step up to the plate and do what it takes to win on all fronts.
For anyone who has taken a beating by life, alone, without a faith system to appeal to (Jackie grew up in the ghetto with a pill-popping, alcoholic mother who allowed her boyfriends to abuse young Jackie, and the latter is still in the ghetto, barely living, one day at a time), the hopelessness portrayed in much of this film rings true. But Jackie has a couple of people in her life, who consistently speak truth to her about who she really is and who she can be if she takes all of her anger and resentment and turns it outward, productively, instead of inward.
When Jackie finally decides to push to the next level and provide a quality life for Manny, who has given her a reason to live, there is scene after scene, in classic Rocky style, of Jackie training for the win; the MMA fight scenes are brutal but powerful. Jackie becomes briefly entangled in a gay relationship, which serves to move the narrative forward slightly, but she is otherwise alone, with nothing but resiliency to propel her forward. This film is well produced and directed, with plenty of action and emotional moments that are experienced directly through Berry’s powerful performance of this downtrodden woman, who is broken and despairing most of the time. Not much of the narrative is explained throughout, that is, dialogue is sparse; the viewer just experiences what Jackie experiences, so when the surprise ending occurs, and an intimate connection is made between Jackie and her son, the emotional pay-off is huge.
If the goal by the filmmakers is to display the difficulties of dragging oneself up by the bootstraps and trying again when it feels like the entire world is against you, then Bruised is a success, indeed, providing a message of hope, through hard work and resilience, to the those who have made terrible choices in challenging circumstances, communicating the possibility of overcoming the odds and rising again to embrace what life has to offer.
The Dove Take
Due to a good deal of swearing and abusive, violent behavior on screen and in front of a child, Bruised can be difficult to watch at times, but the message about the resiliency of the human spirit, and the desire to do what is right by others, makes this film worthwhile.