Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a high school physics teacher, has a house the bank is about to foreclose on and a daughter with an (expensive) heart defect. He’s also a former mixed-martial-arts champion, and so — strictly for the money — he decides to get back in the ring, even if the clawing, kicking, anything-goes bouts threaten to kill him. Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), an Iraq-war veteran who left the battlefield under mysterious circumstances, is also an MMA fighter, and he too wants back in the ring. The two men are brothers, and were once close. But the only thing that unites them now, apart from their ruthless hand-to-hand prowess, is how much they hate their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic whose drinking tore the family apart.
Warrior, a two-track drama of fighting and redemption, tells the parallel stories of Brendan and Tommy, and the movie, with its grim, deliberate rhythms and grainy ’70s-style look, comes on as if it were no mere sports fable. It’s about demon-haunted Irish Catholic men testing and punishing themselves. It’s about broken families coming together. It’s about economic desperation and about America getting off the ropes and recovering its fighting spirit. If Rocky was sweet and inspiring, and The Fighter was touching and fascinating, Warrior is at times almost gravely self-important. The gifted director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle) brings the film an affecting, ripped-from-the-guts spirit, even if he can’t really hide how many old-movie tropes are floating around in it.
Mostly, Warrior is a showcase for its up-and-coming stars. Edgerton, from last year’s Animal Kingdom, and Hardy, who stole scenes as the identity forger in Inception, both have a tense, tough presence, though in a slightly colorless way. You buy them as brothers, and as gnarly brawlers hungry to win, but Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale they are not. In this film, they’re closer to the second coming of Tom Berenger and Michael Paré. B