Movie review: Predictable 'Warrior' manages to entertain anyway

Ed Symkus
Tommy (Tom Hardy, left) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton, right) in WARRIOR.

Call it a mixed martial arts movie with Shakespearian overtones and two distinct soundtracks: a musical one from Beethoven and a verbal one from Herman Melville.

On top of that bizarre mash-up, "Warrior" tells a good old-fashioned tale that gives audiences plenty of choices concerning who to root for, and presents all sorts of exciting, organized mayhem.

Thoughts of Shakespeare come from the central story of a family that's been broken apart, the plight of the despised patriarch trying to pull it back together, and the eventual plot element of brother turning against brother.

The brothers, who haven't seen each other for years, traveled down very different life paths. Tommy (Tom Hardy, from "Inception" and the sorely overlooked "Bronson,") is a loner with a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude and a grudge against the world, who went through the military, only to have things go very wrong. Brendan (Joel Edgerton, from the equally overlooked "Animal Kingdom") is a former mixed martial arts fighter who, after being battered around too much, gave in to his wife's pleas to get out of it. But with mounting money problems at his high school teaching job, he's been sneaking in a few late night matches.

The only thing the two brothers share is the fact that they're both tough as nails, and they both hate their estranged father Paddy (Nick Nolte), who proudly counts off the days since he stopped drinking to anyone who'll listen. His sons are not among the listeners.

Suddenly a tournament pops up, and for those not familiar with mixed martial arts, or MMA, just think of it as a combination of boxing and kicking and strangle holds in a brutal atmosphere with very few rules. Naturally, the matches in the film are staged, but the choreography involved gives them a very real feeling. Some of these two-man brawls are almost painfully hard to watch, yet at the same time so compelling, it's hard to tear your eyes away. In real life, the sport is quite popular, regularly pulling in respectable money in Pay Per View buys.

But there's also a lot going on outside of the ring, where fairly predictable storytelling moves along at a good clip. The brooding Tommy needs to carve out a new life for himself. The frustrated Brendan has to find a way to keep the bank away from his house. Paddy, who used to be a fight trainer, wants his sons back. The tournament could be the answer for everyone, even though there can be only one winner.

You know where this is all heading, and you realize that you're being emotionally manipulated by it. The movie practically tells the viewing audience when to get up and cheer. But it's the cinematic equivalent of comfort food.

There's also something close to perfect casting here. Hardy and Edgerton could easily pass for real brothers. Hardy brings the art of silent seething to new heights. Edgerton wears worry well on his face. Nolte, boasting his whispery growl, portrays a once-shattered man who's scrambling to get back what he lost, and makes his character quite sympathetic.

The aforementioned music and literature fits in nicely with Paddy regularly listening to "Moby Dick" on headphones, apparently hoping Melville's words will guide him along, while one fighter's trainer makes his man listen to Beethoven while getting in shape.

Pro wrestling fans will be happy to see a cameo by former champ Kurt Angle as Koba, "the Russian Terror." It's too bad that he's just shown as a fighting machine rather being given more of a villainous side. And while I'm being picky, the script could've used just a tad more fleshing out in back stories for the main characters.

But it all works just fine as an edge-of-your-seat piece of entertainment. Watch out, though. Next year will see the release of "Here Comes the Boom," a movie with Kevin James about, yup, a high school teacher who moonlights as a mixed martial arts fighter.

WARRIOR (Rated PG-13 for intense fighting, some language and thematic material) Written by Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman; directed by Gavin O'Connor With Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte. 3 stars.