After losing a lucrative UFC fight, Jackie (Halle Berry) is retired from fighting and working as a domestic cleaner and battling her demons. When she's offered a chance to return to fighting and given the help of a trainer (Sheila Atim), Jackie begins to reassert herself inside and outside of the ring. That begins to come apart, however, when a child from a previous relationship returns, and her manager-boyfriend (Adan Canto) grows unstable...
When it comes to any kind of "combat sports" movie - be it boxing, karate, judo, or more frequently MMA - you can already guess the basic plot before anyone's lifted their fists to get to work. The main fighter is either washed up, washed out, or is only coming up and trying to prove themselves. They're usually from "the wrong side of town", they usually have something to prove (maybe even to themselves), and they've got to have a training montage that leads up to the final fight where the outcome is uncertain, but the moral of the story is that the fight is worth more than victory.
'Rocky', 'Million Dollar Baby', 'Creed', 'Warrior' - you name it, there's some kind of spin on it but you normally can see where it's headed. 'Bruised' has just about every one of these beats and touches on them with the grace and subtlety of a swift knee to the face. Halle Berry, who's working behind the camera as director in her feature debut and in front of it, is doing all of the heavy lifting. She carries the movie through these scenes, and for a woman of 55 to be training that hard and looking that mean and physically menacing is truly impressive. Where 'Bruised' really connects and leaves an impact, however, is how it looks right down the barrel at its main character.
She's a single mother, fleeing an abusive relationship, trying to gain some control of herself, and just trying to make it all work. Like Paddy Breathnach's 'Rosie', the reality of being homeless is that it's not just you being without somewhere to go, but those in your care suffering the same. The bond that Berry's character develops with Buddahakan, played by Sheila Atim, grows intimate and that adds yet another layer to 'Bruised' that keeps it from being just another generic MMA movie. Indeed, 'Bruised' almost utilises the MMA stuff like a trojan horse to explore that relationship, not to mention her trying to gain a foothold in her life. She could be training for a dance show, a weightlifting competition, anything. It just so happens to be MMA here.
That being said, the MMA fight that the movie leads up is staged and choreographed very well, and Berry throws herself into the action with ease. Berry is able to square up and look just as convincing a fighter against real-life UFC Women's Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko. Her command of editing and pacing in these sequences gives the fight sequence a real shot in the arm, not to mention showing off her own fighting skills too. Where 'Bruised' begins to take on damage, however, is in how it feels like you've seen this movie before, even if as it tries to bring on a fresh perspective.
No doubt if Berry didn't have to split her time between working out on camera constantly and directing the whole thing, there's a chance that some of the more obvious story beats and turns could have been avoided. Still, 'Bruised' works and packs a punch, though it never gets too scientific about it.