Director Gavin O’Connor made the 2004 inspirational sports movie Miracle and the 2008 gritty family cop drama Pride and Glory, and with Warrior, he draws from both genres. The movie chronicles two different underdog sports triumphs in the world of mixed martial arts and places them in the context of a dysfunctional family. The first half focuses on estranged brothers Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) as they struggle through personal challenges and turn to fighting as an escape. Both brothers improbably rise from obscurity to compete in the biggest-ever MMA tournament within a few months.
That sets the stage for a brother-on-brother showdown in the movie’s second half, which follows the two through the tournament in Atlantic City. Nick Nolte plays the brothers’ recovering-alcoholic father Paddy, who coaches Tommy even as both of his sons resent him for his years of drunken neglect. Nolte’s haggard performance gets to the heart of the deeply wounded Paddy, but Hardy and Edgerton are much less effective. With his mumbled dialogue and defensive posture, Hardy unsuccessfully attempts to channel Sylvester Stallone, while Edgerton lacks the bulk or imposing presence to be convincing as an MMA fighter. As both brothers re-enact different familiar sports-movie clichés (complete with Jennifer Morrison as Brendan’s nagging wife), Warrior starts to feel drawn-out and threadbare, its occasional moments of authentic family drama failing to carry the weight of the 140-minute running time. By the time the two battered fighters drag themselves into the seemingly endless final match, it’s the audience that will be ready to throw in the towel.