Likely the best professional fight flick since “Rocky,” this isn’t just some new product catering to the MMA market. Director Gavin O’Connor, known for the solid but unmemorable “Miracle,” delivers a film that could’ve been sappier than a Hallmark flick but manages to serve up real emotion along with fight sequences intense enough to make one forget how often MMA matches in real life look more like makeup sex.
The film begins with Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) showing up drunk to his recovering drunk father’s (Nick Nolte’s) house. As it’s clear he has no use for Paddy (Nolte) and their history is more than checkered, there’s no explanation through the dialogue as to why Tommy’s here, which is maybe the film’s greatest strength in itself. While there’s plenty of dialogue for characters who talk more than Tommy, the script is strong enough to let on in time what motivations lie behind the tiniest actions. Even at the end, seemingly unresolved subplots can be put together, another strength of the film; things that can be left unsaid just are.
As for the major conflict, Tommy manages to land himself in a highly publicized MMA contest for reasons let on later in the plot, but the way he becomes known is by pummeling a well-known MMA fighter in his local gym and ending up on youtube. Meanwhile, another man out there has a family he’s barely supporting with his teaching job, a man who used to fight UFC and finds his way into the prizefight as well. This man is Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Tommy’s brother.
As most fight films focus on one guy to root for and one to hate on, “Warrior” does an interesting job of providing two protagonists pitted against each other in a sea of other antagonists, all the while keeping us from sure footing on which brother we hope prevails in the end. While Tom Hardy is the brooding and moody one, his war within himself is so evident that one can’t help but want him to find some inner peace.
While Joel Edgerton is fighting for family, one can’t help but wonder if winning the fight is really his only way to the prize money. Either way, both actors (with the exception of one’s occasional Australian accent slip) handle their roles well enough to both be likable, and the end battle ends up being more suspenseful than the usual in a film like this, as we’re trying to decide who we’re rooting for in the middle of the battle itself.
One could be pissy for the whole spoiler that they end up fighting each other after the big contest (with plenty of good action in it), but they screwed that up in the preview already, so one can just cry for a while with some ice cream in the shower and move on now. This flick is formulaic, but it puts a spin on the formula. Nick Nolte, although perfect for the role to begin with, plays the pair’s estranged father with enough heart to likely finally get him that overdue Oscar. There’s romance, good dialogue, yelling, and lots of fighting. Plus, it’s PG-13 and you wouldn’t notice, an accomplishment in itself. Just go.
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