Halle Berry’s effortless craft and inimitable style of embodying the vagaries of life is admirable. Her predominant intersections of storytelling have been around race, sexuality and the power structures that sheer human determination can dismantle. Monster’s Ball, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Losing Isaiah, Their Eyes Watching God, Alex Haley’s Queen, Things We Lost in the Fire and Kings attest to that committed filmography across decades.
Bruised is her battle cry where she goes above and beyond her best efforts to helm a human story of grit behind and in front of the camera. In the fashion of the best sports-centred dramas, Berry designs some priceless moments in this strong screenplay written by Michelle Rosenfarb.
Such as the ones with her son (the excellent Harry Boyd Jr.) whose loss of a father figure at the hands of indiscriminate violence has left him mute. The emotional reconnection with an estranged mother who gave him up owing to her own dire personal life is gradual and palpable, crossing out none of their traumas individually as also the tangible beauty of their blood bonds. Adrianne Lenox as her mother displays the full force of a woman who has demons of her own but deflects those by blaming her daughter. The physicality of their volatile tempers in one particular scene is realistically conveyed. Stephen Henderson is then the father figure and mentor whose steadying support to Jackie while in the throes of training in the ring lifts her up.
But Bruised will be nothing if not for the beautifully observed journey towards getting back to the sports arena that is alighted by the protagonist’s trainer, mentor and eventual lover Buddhakan (an excellent Sheila Atim); their moments of truth together as women, sportspersons and survivors of a society ready to bracket them is never announced per se and unfolds with their intimacy. In a year where a record number of LGBTQ+ athletes made history by their participation at the Olympics, this dynamic of imparting support, grit and love among two steadfast and driven individuals is a standout.
Berry hence achieves a delicacy in her handling of these multiple tracks which spring forth from Jackie’s life and are given their due place. But I will be remiss if I didn’t appreciate Adan Canto and Shamier Anderson for their contributions as Jackie’s managers. They exemplify the toxic side of male management that besets so many promising women athletes within a patriarchal cultural setup.
Ultimately, Bruised earns its victory laps by Berry’s all-out commitment to embodying the physical toll and adrenaline rush associated with Mixed Martial Arts in all their glory and simultaneous dangers to the body. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart to either watch or participates in what is deemed as a ‘bloodsport’; the bouts inside the ring are true to its punishing nature and dire paybacks.
Watch Bruised for its role in defining the crux of individual agency, of a life strapped to being have-nots financially and socially and how sports can help transcend those lines without simplifying the struggles.
Bruised is available to stream on Netflix now
by Prithvijeet Sinha
Prithvijeet Sinha is from Lucknow, India. A regular contributor to Screen Queens, he lives for the beauty of poetry in moving images and translates them into stirring writings in verse and prose. He is also a dedicated cinephile.