- Brothers in arms: Tom Hardy (left) and Joel Edgerton prepare to square off in Warrior.
The first hour of Warrior tells a core story of a divided family that we've seen before, but it's one worth retelling if you can tell it well.
Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) was an alcoholic who beat his wife until she moved far away with Tommy, their younger son. Older son Brendan stayed behind. Now Paddy's alone and, finally, recovering: 1,000 days sober, with no one he loves to share it with. Can this family be reconciled?
Then, the bullish grownup Tommy (Tom Hardy), filled with anger and resentment, comes home to Pittsburgh (where Warrior was filmed). He's a mixed martial-arts fighter, and he wants Paddy to train him -- and nothing more. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a former fighter and now high school physics teacher, married with three kids, is losing his house. So he trains to enter a $5 million MMA competition against a Russian beast (shades of Rocky Something).
Warrior spends so much time developing these bittersweet relationships -- albeit in one dimension -- that I took too long to realize the climax would come down to the brothers pulverizing each other for the championship. Under different circumstances, that might have worked dramatically. But writer/director Gavin O'Connor is such an inept storyteller that he lards his movie with contrivances that would fail a college fiction-writing assignment, which says more about Hollywood than it does about undergrads.
Warrior is the best it could have been for what it is, but several times we hear that cage fighters are either "animals" or losers who watch too much MMA on TV. I'd rather see a movie dissecting those people than the familiar ones in O'Connor's family melodrama. The acting is solid, and watching Nolte and Hardy together is often electric. They're similar actors: adept brutalists on screen, with real-life tabloid pasts, committed to their art and not afraid to howl in anguish at their humanity.
All throughout Warrior, Paddy listens to Moby-Dick on tape, a ham-handed metaphor that equates his alcoholism and abuse with Ahab's obsession with revenge. So I've got a better one. Men become cage fighters because life has beaten them down and stolen their self-esteem, and they need to use their bodies -- the only resource they have left -- to get it back. It's the same reason women become prostitutes. So this isn't Rocky after all: It's Pretty Woman, with hearts of steel instead of gold.
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Starring Nick Nolte, Tom Hard
Starts Fri., Sept. 9