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Photo by Chuck Zlotnick

Family fight

Movies | Ostensibly about mixed martial arts, this film tells a profound story of forgiveness

Issue: "All tied up," Sept. 24, 2011

Warrior masquerades as a hard-hitting sports flick about the rough world of mixed martial arts cage matches, but under the muscle and bravado hides a taut, profound family drama.

Longtime alcoholic Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) has found sobriety with the help of a newfound Christian faith. The change comes too late for his relationship with his adult sons. Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) have two daughters, three jobs, and an upside down mortgage. They have been hurt too many times to allow Paddy back into their lives.

When Paddy's other son Tommy (Tom Hardy) comes back into town after a stint in Iraq, both brothers enter a televised fight tournament with a payoff of $5 million. Paddy may have been the worst possible father, but he sure can coach a fighter.

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The two brothers are trapped by the fallout of Paddy's spectacular failures, but they blunder toward forgiveness. Actually, they swing, punch, kick, and choke toward forgiveness. This testosterone-heavy movie infuses extremely violent cage fights with emotion. Bulging muscles serve as metaphors for full hearts and cut faces echo wounded souls. These men don't say much with their words, but communicate everything through their actions.

Nolte delivers an amazing performance as a man torn by regret, a poignant combination of vulnerability, longing, and determination. Actions have consequences. No one knows this more than Paddy Conlon.

With a PG-13 rating, the fighting is brutal but confined to the cage. There is some bad language and a few shots of Tess in her underwear, but no sexual content.

The intense fighting takes the sappiness out of what turns out to be a very moving film. By the time of the inevitable showdown in the cage, the definition of victory has shifted from winning money to the restoration of family members who, deep down, still love each other.

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