Warrior - Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte
Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Paddy (Nick Nolte) © 2011 Lionsgate

Warrior probably wants to be taken as seriously as last year’s The Fighter, another movie about battling brothers with jealousy-and-resentment issues. Unlike that ridiculously overpraised Best Picture contender, Warrior‘s aggressively unbelievable plot doesn’t have the advantage of being based on anything vaguely resembling a true story.

Maybe Warrior even aspires to the operatic heights of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, considering how much screen time it lavishes on numerous bruising and very bloody brawls. Like The Fighter, however, Raging Bull was based on real people and events, making its excesses easier to excuse. Also, Raging Bull‘s artistic ambition transcended its subject matter in a way that the more melodramatic and manipulative Warrior never manages.

Nick Nolte is Paddy Conlon, ex-alcoholic sire of estranged sons Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton). They both hate Paddy’s guts because he beat their mother, who eventually split with teenage Tommy for the west coast.

Warrior - Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton
Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) © 2011 Lionsgate

Now mom has died, and ex-Marine Tommy reappears in Pittsburgh after 14 years to verbally abuse his now sober and surprisingly noncombative father. A former wrestling champion in high school, Tommy has no intention of forgiving or forgetting…but wants dear despised dad to coach him so he can compete in mixed martial arts competitions. You may as well walk out of the theater at this point if you’re a stickler for believability, because things definitely don’t start making more sense later.

For those unfamiliar with the “sport,” mixed martial arts basically involves two guys in a no-holds-barred cage match beating the hell out of each other. Much more brutal than mere boxing or wrestling, MMA is only slightly more civilized than actual murder. As a commentator remarks during one of the matches, “You do that to someone on the street, they lock you up and throw away the key!”

When overmuscled Tommy is not methodically and emotionlessly assaulting a series of unfortunate opponents, he’s moping stone-faced around town in a hoodie like an even more humorless Eminem. Dude’s obviously got problems, but sheesh, even the Unabomber must have cracked a smile now and then.

Over in the nice suburbs, brother Brendan is a high-school physics teacher facing foreclosure. Despite resembling and looking as intimidating as Conan O’Brien, he’s picking up money on the side in parking-lot MMA matches. When he hears about an upcoming big-money championship in Atlantic City, he re-teams with a former coach in hopes of getting a shot.

Unlikelihoods and inconsistencies pound away at credibility throughout the plot, which eventually pits brother against brother. Tommy rises to that level despite recently being a pill-popping drunk, and over-30 Brendan looks more suited for faculty meetings than fisticuffs. When Paddy is guilted back to the bottle, he turns weepy and stupid instead of angry and violent. A big reveal about Tommy includes the news that he once ripped the door off a tank, despite the fact that he isn’t a green fellow known as the Incredible Hulk.

Director/cowriter Gavin O’Connor (best known for helming Disney’s hokey hockey movie Miracle) keeps overusing out-of-focus foreground elements, as if the camera is hiding behind things. He also has a habit of shooting too tight on faces, and cutting away too soon from impact shots in frequently clumsy fight scenes.

Story-wise, what can be said about a film in which brothers work out their emotional differences and psychological traumas by beating the bodily fluids out of each other? One line sums up the canned corniness: Attempting to motivate the bankruptcy-facing Brendan, his coach shouts, “You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home!”

That’s 21st century America, in which both family and financial difficulties can be solved with a thorough, righteous and well-rewarded beatdown. They should have called this belligerently earnest nonsense “Raging Bullshit.”

[Rating:1.5 stars]

This film opens Friday September 9 2011 but was being shown in theaters from as early as September 4 as a “sneak preview”.

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.