Warrior is an intense fight movie about two estranged brothers who face off against each other in the final round of a brutal, mixed martial-arts tournament. Joel Edgerton (from last year’s excellent Australian hit Animal Kingdom) stars as Brendan Conlon, a high school physics teacher and ex-fighter who gets back into the ring to earn money so he can protect his wife and kids and save his home from being repossessed by the bank. Inception‘s Tom Hardy is Tommy, a disturbed soldier who has returned from the Iraq war under mysterious circumstances, and who becomes a YouTube sensation when he knocks out a big deal professional fighter in his local gym.
The two brothers were once close, but they haven’t seen each other in 14 years. The only thing they have in common now, apart from their ruthless fighting skills, is a bitter hatred for their father Paddy (played by Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic whose drinking tore the family apart.
Charting what is essentially a journey of redemption against the backdrop of extreme physical action, Warrior has a familiar, predictable feel to it, even if mixed-martial arts may be a relatively new sport. The film gives equal time to the two parallel stories of the brothers, but it’s Brendan who is the more readily likeable of the two. Tommy, meanwhile, is a raging ball of fury who is tough to like at first, but you root for him too when you realize he’s hurting inside.
By the time the action shifts to the climatic tournament in Atlantic City, the script begins to strain under the weight of all the clichés. You know exactly what’s going to happen here, but director Gavin O’Connor succeeds in delivering intense, thrilling fight scenes that divert your attention from the script lapses. It’s a surprisingly moving film that your heart warms up to when you realize you don’t want either of the two fighters to lose the final match. Solid acting from Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton, and a knockout performance from Tom Hardy ensure that this is a film you won’t easily forget.
I’m going with three out of five for Warrior. Even if you’re not a big fan of sports movies, you’ll be drawn in by the characters and their emotional journey.