Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Fight of Their Lives

The drama of family dynamics
it often makes for some good movies.

Warrior tells the story of two estranged brothers, Brendan Conlon (Aussie breakout Joel Edgerton, one of the stars of next year’s The Great Gatsby) and the younger of the two, Tommy Riordan, an Iraq-war vet, played by Inception scene-stealer Tom Hardy, who’s returned home carrying some heavy baggage on his broad shoulders.

Both are mixed martial arts fighters, and neither is on speaking terms with their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte, award-worthy in a chewy, but restrained-when-needed performance), a recovering alcoholic almost 1,000 days sober whose drinking tore their family apart.

Brendan, the, say, gentler of two, is on the wrong side of 30 as he is described at one point during the movie. A former MMA fighter, he now is a family man living in Philly, a physics teacher with two daughters (one of whom has an expensive health condition), a beautiful wife (Jennifer Morrison, from TV’s House), and three jobs between the two. He also has a house about to be foreclosed on by the bank.

The guy’s barely making ends meet, y’ know, working miserable bouncing jobs at strip joints and picking up the odd amateur fight on the side, which doesn’t go over very well with the powers that be at school. He gets suspended, so he decides to start fighting again to keep his family afloat, at least until his case goes before the review board at the end of the semester.

So we know why Brendan wants to get back in a cage: Warrior does a very good job of telling us.

Tommy’s reasons are a bit harder to read because he’s such a closed-up guy.

Is he angry at his old man for being such a piss-poor dad? Or is it a PTSD-type of thing? It’s tough to tell, but what you definitely will be to tell as soon as you hear both Brendan and Tommy find out about this winner-takes-all tournament in Atlantic City is that the two brothers will face each other in fight.

They both want the $5 million prize...they both want it and need it bad: Brendan, the underdog, for survival, to prove to himself that life will not take the fight out of him, that Paddy should’ve nurtured his talent, too; and Tommy, the tournament’s reluctant hero (that’s a bit of a hint) for redemption (that’s another).

The two will fight each other, alright, but they also will battle their pasts, and their future as a family, emotionally tearing down not only each other but those closest to them in the process. Obviously, only one could win the title, but, as it would be the movie’s wont, everyone comes out on top.

I liked Warrior. I enjoyed the tension of the MMA scenes, as well as the humor and the heart it managed to include in such a masculine story. Yeah, maybe it could’ve gotten wrapped up with a less shiny ribbon on it, as someone I saw the movie with suggested (I didn’t think it really did – Nolte’s character would agree), but I liked that in the end, these guys walked away a bit wiser. It gave me hope they’d be A-OK.

My Rating ***1/2

Photo: Lionsgate Films.

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