Crowd-pleaser melds sports and gritty sibling drama

Sometimes the story is the story — that’s all there is, and the producers stick with it. Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, Pride and Glory) gets to mash-up two of his favorite genres — crowd-pleasing sports and gritty sibling drama — with Warrior, the story of two brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) waging distinctly different personal comebacks on their way towards a classic and completely inevitable showdown in the gladiator sport of MMA.

Younger brother Tommy (Hardy) reluctantly hooks up with their ex-alcoholic and abusive former boxer dad (Nick Nolte) to exorcise deep-seated demons, while older brother Brendan (Edgerton), a high school science teacher fights to stave off foreclosure and to keep his own family together. Long separated and with secrets to be revealed along the way, the brothers are both underdogs in a high-stakes, winner-takes-all event eager to promote not one but two Rocky Balboas.

That is exactly what O’Connor gives the audience — and all that the marketing and promotions machine can sell in the trailers — but Hardy and Edgerton pump it up with real heart and soul. Hardy is a caged brute, a force of nature waiting to be unleashed, but just as likely to flash a hint of unexpected gentleness to lull you in before delivering the swift knockout, while Edgerton (an Australian who is about to kickoff a bit of a role as a featured onscreen player over the course of the next few months) settles nicely as the more grounded, practical brother.

Coming on the heels of The Fighter, O’Connor’s Warrior gives audiences what that story didn’t — a chance to see the titanic clash of brothers in arms with everything on the line and a ring full of winners. Grade: B+

Opens wide Sept. 9.
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