Over the past few years, I've been getting more and more into MMA. Not as something I actually do, but I have grown to really like the UFC.
I don't need to expound too much on this one. Alcoholic father is good at exactly one thing, training his sons to fight. He cared much more about the angry fuck-up of a son than the son who stayed back when their mother left for her own good. There is fraternal strife and distance. Each of the brothers, played by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, is hard-up for money. Impossibly the two surmount the insurmountable odds stacked against them to face each other in a winner-takes-all tournament. You get the point.
What is easy to overlook is how well the film stirs conflict within the heart of the audience. This is where Gavin O'Connor's film sets itself apart. When Brendan and Tommy face each other, you don't know which one you want to win because you actually care about both of them. Hot off his great turn in Animal Kingdom, Edgerton plays a character seemingly inspired at least in part by former teacher-cum-UFC Middleweight Champ Rich Franklin. With a primary role in The Thing and another high-profile film on the way in the form of Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald masterpiece The Great Gatsby, it seems that Edgerton's career is about to take off like a rocket. This isn't unlike what has happened for Tom Hardy since his star-turn in Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson put him on the map. The two are pretty evenly matched in Warrior, and the film works in large part because of them.
As a film, it may be somewhat lacking in originality on the screenplay side of the equation, but the fight choreography was tight, visceral, and most importantly intelligible. The cinematography, especially in Pittsburgh, had the gritty feel necessary to make you feel like this is where the Conlon boys could have come from. Throw in a couple of songs by The National, and you've got a solid recipe for an enjoyable if not entirely cliche-free sports movie.