Sunday, May 27, 2012

Warrior (2011) ***½

“Warrior” simply should not be this good. This story of brothers separated as teens, who both return to MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting and wind up competing in a big-money tournament should be just as trite and unlikely as the concept sounds. Somehow, though, co-writer/director Gavin O’Connor manages to pull the story together into something pretty gripping. Both brothers are estranged from their abusive, alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). When the younger brother, Tommy (Tom Hardy), returns from the Iraq War, he is full of pills, bitterness, and endless rage. Somehow he finds his way back into the boxing gym, where that rage makes him an unstoppable fighting machine and an internet sensation. Meanwhile, his brother Brandon (Joel Edgerton) has his life mostly together, but finds himself in danger of bankruptcy. His job as a high-school physics teacher isn’t enough to make the house payment, so he drifts back into MMA fighting as well. Ultimately the two wind up competing in the same $5 million tournament. Believe it or not, it isn’t the fight scenes that made me like “Warrior.“ I like that from the opening scene on, the characters are fully realized human beings, with great performances by all the lead actors. Nick Nolte wound up being nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. As for the fight scenes, they are fun and exciting, but somewhat staged. If you are a fan of actual MMA fighting, you may not find the fights very realistic. Sadly, this film managed to fly below the radar, earning less than its $25 million budget despite positive reviews. This is a damn shame, because the film is a real crowd-pleaser. It feels like sacrilege to call “Warrior” a modern-day “Rocky,” but it comes close. 3.5 stars out of 5

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