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Warrior ****

Is it worth $10? Yes

Sports movies are rarely so good that they make me want to stand up and cheer, but “Warrior” did just that. It also made me cry. This is a powerful, heartbreaking story about two estranged brothers who were torn apart as children but are now on a collision course to fight out years of anger with a $5 million purse on the line.

In Pittsburgh, Tommy (Tom Hardy) returns home to ask his newly sober father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), to train him for an upcoming Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament. No emotions, no talking, just training, Tommy, a former wrestling prodigy, tells Paddy. Given that he hasn’t seen his son in 14 years and yearns to make up for the abusive alcoholic sins of his past, Paddy agrees.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia Tommy’s brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) works as a schoolteacher and lives with his wife (Jennifer Morrison) and children. He’s happy but the family is broke, and the only way to avoid foreclosure is for Brendan to fight again. With the reluctant help of his old friend/trainer Frank (Frank Grillo), he gets a shot.

You don’t have to know anything about MMA to enjoy the fight scenes, so unfamiliarity with the sport should not be a deterrent. And while many of the training and fighting scenes are fairly standard, director Gavin O’Connor does a great job of giving each fight importance by emphasizing the incredible physical toll each battle has on its competitors.

Of course, none of this would matter if we didn’t care about the brothers, and boy do we ever. Tommy and Brendan haven’t spoken in 14 years, but Hardy and Edgerton (a Brit and an Australian, respectively) play the afflicted All-American boys perfectly. Whereas Edgerton had to be grounded and desperate, Hardy carries years of anger and resentment as Tommy, which makes Tommy so hard and unfeeling that he’s a brute amongst men. Also note the utter distain with which Tommy looks at Paddy, and then later the way Nolte brings fierce intensity to Paddy’s relationship with Tommy. This is great, great acting in a story of tremendous pain.

How good are Hardy and Nolte? Both deserve Oscar nominations for sure. If Natalie Portman can win an Oscar for becoming a ballerina in “Black Swan” and conveying emotional angst, Hardy surpasses her tenfold. He gained 28 pounds for the role during a grueling 10-week MMA training regimen, and it’s been confirmed that both Hardy and Edgerton did 85% of the fight work seen on screen. That’s darn impressive.

Full disclosure: I saw “Warrior” prior to the recent television trailers that reveal too much about the ending, so I was rapt with attention up to and including the conclusive winner-take-all tournament. The trailer is doing a huge disservice to the film, but the performances and storytelling still speak for themselves as tremendous accomplishments. This is one of the best films of the year.

Did you know?
After reading nearly 200 actors for the role of Tommy, O’Connor had a phone conversation with Hardy and they decided to meet in person. Hardy then arrived unannounced at O’Connor’s house at midnight on a Sunday and stayed for five days as they discussed the role.

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