(Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison, Nick Nolte, et al / R / 127 mins)
Overview: Rising stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton command the screen as two estranged brothers facing the fight of a lifetime in Lionsgate's 'WARRIOR,' a moving, inspirational action drama from acclaimed director Gavin O'Connor.
Verdict: Going into this movie I wondered if it was going to be like those Jean-Claude Van Damme movies of old; where the fighting was in slo-mo, the facial expressions once the glove hit distorted, disfigured, goofy looking, and where the good guy would win - battered and bruised, but win as planned, none the less.
Well, I have to say that most all that didn't happen, and that as much as I am not a fan (of watching) Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), I was transfixed to this movie from moment number one! This film HAS to be watched, but not only by fans of MMA but by those searching for a gritty family movie that features head to head confrontations, forces of human nature that can barely be constrained, and a soaring, soul stirring, and unforgettable heart wrenching underbelly of conscious that I have seen on film in the past 20 years.
Haunted by a tragic past, ex-Marine Tommy Conlon (Hardy, in a role that was built for him and one that is SO powerfully acted within that you leave believing if you met the guy he would be no different to this character) returns home for the first time in fourteen years to enlist the help of his father (Nick Nolte) to train for SPARTA, the biggest winner-takes-all event in mixed martial arts history.
A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy blazes a path toward the championship while his brother, Brendan (Edgerton, an actor that, at first, you have trouble believing could still fight within MMA at the highest levels - due to age and the fact he has been away from the sport for many years and softened bodily), an ex-fighter-turned teacher, returns to the ring in a desperate bid to save his family from financial ruin.
But when Brendan's unlikely, underdog rise sets him on a collision course with the unstoppable Tommy, and with his wife (Jennifer Morrison, in a role that belittles her beauty, purposefully), against the whole thing, the two brothers must finally confront each other - and the forces that pulled them apart.
Along the way we get some darkly comedic sentiments (like when Nick Nolte, as Tommy's dad says it's hard to find a woman today, and his son replies, "Yeah, it must be so hard to find a good woman who can take a punch!"); or when Brendan asks his coach to put him into SPARTA, and he replies, "You've got more chance of starting a boy band!"), a few cruel spoken word moments (like the casino scene at 4am - a very heartbreaking scene), a lot of brutal MMA filmed scenes, but for the most part we encounter the emotional turmoil of a family on the brink of both collapse and stunning success. Indeed, Nolte as the raspy, down but not out dad is perfect for the role. Coming up to a thousand days sober, he watches Tommy drink and drink, never tempted, like he always once was.
I won't given the end of the movie away, but suffice to say that a) one winner of a certain SF fight wouldn't have won in real life, and b) the end is absolutely unforgettable. It simply has to be witnessed to be truly inspired by is truly going to live with you - through tear-stained eyes - for many years to come.
FYI - 'Warrior' was originally set to come out last year, but due to some additional editing time and an unfortunate coincidence that saw 'The Fighter' come out at the same time 'Warrior' was due, it got shelved. Two completely different movies, sure, but the gamble was not taken to to head to head. Hardy actually filmed 'Warrior' before joining Christopher Nolanís 'Inception,' though the sci-fi blockbuster was released a year ago!