Warrior, starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as estranged brothers, is one part moving family drama and another part ferocious mixed martial arts fighting. A gloriously bulked up and tattooed Hardy plays Tommy Conlon, an ex-Marine and promising MMA fighter with a massive chip on his shoulder due to his relationship to his previously abusive and alcoholic father and coach, Paddy (Nick Nolte). Tommy returns home to the man from whom he and his ailing mother fled years ago in order to train for the Sparta fighting tournament where the cash prize is $5 million. His older brother Brendan, who stayed in Pittsburgh with their father after half the family escaped, is happily married with kids but struggling financially as a high school teacher. He too carries the emotional baggage of Paddy’s abuse and neglect and is estranged from his aging father whom he believes favoured Tommy when the boys were growing up and training for professional fighting matches. Although Brendan wants to reconnect with his brother, Tommy feels anger toward him for staying behind with their father and refuses to acknowledge familial bonds. Paddy also desires to reconcile with his sons (already, he has spent three years staying sober), but both men hold too much resentment to speak more than a few, barely civil words to him. All this boils beneath the training and competition that the brothers endure towards preparing for the punishing rounds in the ring at Sparta.
As much as this is a well-made sports movie, themes of family, brotherhood, pain, reconciliation, and unconditional love bring real emotional weight to Warrior. The mostly silent and intensely private Tommy rejects any attempts by his family to reach out to him but his emotional pain occasionally comes bursting out, especially during the final climatic fight with his brother. Brendan endures physically brutal bouts in the ring as the underdog in the tournament. He also faces the total bankruptcy of his young family if he does not succeed. Paddy’s deep regret over the past and his desperate efforts to show his sons that he is a changed man play in the background of the two brothers’ separate journeys in the film.
On the flip side, there is also a surprising amount of levity in the film, injected by the jocular media commentators during the tournament and by Brendan’s circle of friends and students who react hilariously upon discovering his secret life as an MMA fighter. Led by the knockout performances of Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte, the cast also includes Frank Grillo (Hail Hydra!) and Jennifer Morrison in supporting roles.
Rating: 5 out of 5 leg locks