A movie that gives you rooting interest, as soon as it opens, and keeps coming at you, could best be described as a triumph. “Warrior”, from director Gavin O’ Connor takes place in the world of mixed martial arts. It is violent, blunt, powerful. You name it. But “Warrior” also possesses heart and finesse on its side. It means to knock you out, psychologically speaking of course, and it does. The script, co-written by O’ Connor, never misses a note, and we owe it all to three excellent performances. Tom Hardy is terrific as Tommy Conlon, an Iraq War veteran who returns home to Philadelphia after 14 years. Years before, he and his mother fled the boys’ abusive, alcoholic father, Paddy, a wrestling coach played by an exceptionally good Nick Nolte. Tommy is not looking for some Daddy time here. He simply wants his father to train him for an MMA competition that could earn him $ 5 million. But that’s not all. Meanwhile, we learn that Tommy’s older brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) also wants the prize, to save his home from foreclosure.
For me, the only thing duller than watching UFC is listening to commentators drone on about stats. So I yawned at the idea at first. My bad. “Warrior’ is one of the best and most visually exciting movies of the year. Like a train wreck, it is surprisingly compelling, and Nolte gives by far one of the best performances of his career. His best scene is a great, quiet one on Edgerton’s front lawn, pleading hopelessly to be let in and see his grandkids. Oscar, I hope you’re watching.
At the end, “Warrior” left me ready to cheer. It might be too brutal and blistering to cozy up to. But the performances are dynamite. And O’ Connor is a born provocateur. His movie gets in your head and refuses to leave.