Our Score: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Philadelphia is known as a sports town. Philly gave us Doug Allison, who history tells us was the first baseball player to wear a glove in the field. Also from the City of Brotherly Love: basketball player Lloyd Bernard Free, who in 1981 legally changed his name to World B. Free. But the town’s biggest claim of local talent belongs to fighters. Sonny Liston. Joe Frazier. Bernard Hopkins. Heck, even Rocky Balboa hails from Philly. In “Warrior” we learn that there are two more fighters to watch. The Conlon Brothers.
Paddy Conlon (Nolte), celebrating 1000 days away from the alcohol that cost him his family, spends his days listening to “Moby Dick”, the book-on-tape following him from home to the car and back. He arrives home one night to find Tommy (Hardy) waiting for him. He has a favor to ask.
Brendan Conlon (Edgerton) is a high school teacher. And a former MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter. With an ever rising mortgage looming over his head, he’s decided to make a little money on the side fighting. YouTube footage of one of his weekend battles gets him suspended from school. With the bank breathing down his neck he comes to the only possible solution. He visits his friend Frank (Frank Grillo), who owns the local gym. He has a favor to ask.
One part “Rocky,” one part “The Wrestler,” “Warrior,” in the wrong hands, could be your average ESPN movie of the week. But anchored by three outstanding performances the film soars and reaches all the right chords. Nolte, his face weathered from life (has it really been 35 years since he played young Tom Jordache on “Rich Man, Poor Man?”) would easily make my short list when Oscar nominations come around. As a man trying everything…anything…to right the wrongs of the past, Nolte’s performance ranks with his work in “The Prince of Tides” among his career best. I must say that I was only familiar with Edgerton thanks to his role as Luke Skywalker’s future Uncle Owen in “Star Wars: Episode II and III.” Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Conan O’Brien, he does a fine job here. But the revelation here is Hardy. So good as Eames, the master of disguise in “Inception,” Hardy explodes off the screen in what is truly a star making performance. And he’s ripped! I can’t wait to see him as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Director O’Connor, who fluidly shot “Miracle,” the story of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, is just as strong here. His camera takes you into the ring so close to the action that you can almost feel every punch. The script is fairly tight, with a subplot of Tommy as an Iraqi war hero with a past the only distraction. Sport fans will recognize Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Kurt Angle as Russia’s entry into the films main event, a 16 man winner take all war called Sparta. And kudos to stunt coordinator/fight choreographer J.J. Perry for some of the best ring action ever committed to film.