Warrior ***1/2

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“Warrior” takes the traditional sports movie and follows it fairly closely with two notable exceptions: The first is that it paints it’s canvas with authentic characters who seem real.  They have real back stories, emotions, vulnerability’s and life problems.  The second is that this story has to protagonists. 

Most sports themed movies have clearly defined heroes and villains.  Here we meet a set of brothers, each with very different problems, both of which enter a mixed martial arts tournament, needing to win prize money.  Rarely do we get to a final big fight in a movie and we are not sure who to root for and for the first time in a long time I had no idea who was going to win.

The starts with a U.S. Marine, Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) visiting his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic.  Tommy becomes angry about his father’s formerly abusive behavior, and Paddy fails to convince him that he has truly changed. The next day, Tommy enters a gym where he beats a professional fighter named Pete “Mad Dog” Grimes unconscious in less than a minute.  The fight is filmed via a flip video camera and later uploaded to the Internet where it spreads. Tommy learns about a winner-takes-all tournament called Sparta, and in order to provide for the family of his fallen friend in the Marine Corps, Tommy asks his father to help him train for the tournament, but only under the condition that they do not try to reconcile their relationship.

Turns out that Paddy has an older son, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a high school physics teacher and former UFC fighter.  He is struggling to financially provide for his family, and faces the possibility of his home getting foreclosed. To increase his income, Brendan risks returning to his former profession for extra cash.

Rumors of Brendan fighting in the ring begin spreading amongst his students, and the school, objecting to his participation in such dangerous activities, suspends him without pay. Left with no other option, Brendan seeks the training of an old buddy, and begins competing in smaller venue fights. After the fighter Frank planned to enter into the Sparta tournament is injured during training, Brendan convinces Frank to enter him instead.

Director Gavin O’Connor gives each of the two brothers equal screen time to develop and flesh out their characters, which invests the audience in both of them equally.  When they talk face to face for the first time in many years, I found the movie touching on strange emotions.  Not of a lot of movies in general, let alone sports themed ones, touch on situations like this.  I almost found myself wishing that the whole tournament plot was scrapped so we could get to know these characters even more.

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