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Published on September 7th, 2011 | by Rachael

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Warrior: Mixed Martial Drama

Warrior is the story of estranged brothers Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) Conlon facing the fight of a lifetime at Sparta, the largest mixed martial arts competition in the world. Like any good action drama, the fight scenes are well choreographed–realistic rather than cheesy but never gruesome enough to make me turn away. Several impressive throws and holds are performed on the mat that evoked “oos” from the audience. Unlike many fight flicks, however, Warrior does not dwell on the spectacle of these fight scenes. Warrior is more a drama than simply a film about martial arts.

Tommy, an ex-Marine returns home to confront his father Paddy (Nick Nolte) for abusing his now deceased mother. Once a wrestling prodigy, Tommy asks his father to train him again for Sparta. Tommy insists that this doesn’t change how he feels about his father, but Paddy tries desperately to repair the relationship. There is a heartbreaking tension between Tommy and Paddy. Paddy does his best to earn forgiveness from his son, but Tommy continues to punish him with harsh words. Nick Nolte gives the most powerfully moving performance in the film as he struggles with alcoholism and seeks forgiveness from his sons.

Brendan, an ex-fighter, now high school physics teacher, struggles to support his family and faces foreclosure on their house. He argues with his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) that winning Sparta is the only way they can keep their home. When Brendan, Tommy, and Paddy are reunited at Sparta their familial conflicts are played out in the ring.

The film comes to a crescendo of a climax in the final rounds of Sparta. Tommy as the dark horse contender is seemingly unstoppable; he is able to take out opponents with a single punch. Brendan the underdog takes a beating in every round. The audience mirrors Tess’s anxiety, never sure if he will make it out alive. Predictably the brothers end up facing each other in the final round. It is hard not to root for both characters. Tommy has the support of the Marines behind him, and Brendan has bright-eyed high school students cheering him on.

The final fight becomes a beautiful metaphor for Tommy and Brendan’s relationship. Tommy is frighteningly furious at Brendan for staying with their father when Tommy and his mother left Paddy. His wild anger is released with every punch. Regretting the pain he caused his brother when they were children, Brendan is hesitant to throw punches and hurt him again. Gradually the familial drama is resolved on the mat. Grappling holds allude to embraces, and the final tap out becomes a reassuring pat of forgiveness.

What’s most compelling about the story is not the fighting itself, but what these men are fighting for: Tommy to support the widow of his brother-in-arms killed by friendly fire, Brendan to save his family’s home, and Paddy for personal recovery and his sons’ forgiveness. The characters’ fights are familiar problems: disillusionment with war, housing foreclosure, bankruptcy. Sparta gives them an arena where they can actually win; their problems become more straightforward and are, to some extent, resolved. This makes for a moving and ultimately heart-warming picture.

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