It’s revealed early on in this film that Tommy Conlan (Hardy) and his big brother Brendan (Edgerton) were separated at a young age. Tommy left to be with their ailing mother, while his big bro (Edgerton) stuck around with their alcoholic father (Nolte, in a career-booster of a peformance) to be close to his childhood sweetheart. Both brothers have a history in mixed martial arts, with Tommy having an especially ferocious fighting ability, partly due to his traumatic experience as a marine in Afghanistain. When the opportunity to take part in nationally broadcast tournament arrives, with the promise of a $5m prize for the winner, the siblings find themselves locked in a battle of loyalty and pride.
Strong characterisation allows Warrior to build upon the typically formulaic boxing/martial arts movie genre, providing moving dialogue in place of cheesy one-liners. Even the traditional montage training scene is given a modern re-work that portrays realistic progression. Morrison provides solid support as Brendan's long-suffering wife, Tess. Though Brendan had long ago given up a fighting career and found work as a high school physics teacher, he is suspended after competing in a small cash-prize knockout competition. Due to his fragile financial status, Brendan feels entering the tournament is his only way to gain the necessary funds to keep his family afloat.
Hardy steps up to the mark as a Hollywood leading man, carrying himself with an undercurrent of unaddressed personal turmoil that can't help but make you empathise with the guy, even when he's joyfully beating the living daylights out of his opponents. It goes without saying that the finale consists of the two brothers finally slogging it out in the ring. And what a finale it is. With every spiteful takedown, you can see years of pent-up frustration shaking the characters' bones. It becomes clear if these boys have any chance at reconcilliation, they want to make it as tough on themselves as possible. The fighting is a masterclass in brutality. This is the closest you will ever get to feeling a character's physical pain, short of having a cinema attendee leap from the aisle and beat you to a pulp.
This tale of two dysfunctional brothers with a passion for fighting both exceeds expectation and outranks The Fighter by knockout. It's an emotional, testosterone-filled exploration of male relationships that packs a punch as heavy as Raging Bull and the emotional depth of 'Rocky', set against the backdrop of intense MMA beatdowns. And it's a modern masterpiece.