Feature

Warrior: A 'Rocky for an empire in decline'?

The small dramatic film about estranged brothers forced into the violent world of mixed martial arts is surprising critics with its emotional punch

At first glance, the drama Warrior, which hits theaters Friday, appears to be a carbon copy of any number of ring-fighting flicks released in recent years. Yet the film, which stars Tom Hardy (Inception) and Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) as estranged brothers who wind up as underdog entrants — and rivals — in a hyper-violent mixed martial arts tournament, is being heralded by critics as the Rocky of its time and a potential Oscar contender. Is it really that good?

Yes. It transcends the genre: Warrior offers "a rare glimpse of soul" in a genre that "usually isn't obliged to provide one," says Alison Willmore at The A.V. Club. Hardy and Edgerton play the parallel underdog arcs delicately — all the more affecting given the actors' "hulking builds." The brothers' "economic and spiritual desperation" offsets the film's unapologetic violence. It's a "would-be Rocky for an empire in decline.""Warrior"

It really reflects "the painful realities of contemporary America": Warrior "looks at an American working class reeling from the one-two punch of war and recession," says A.O. Scott at The New York Times. The brothers fight because their respective attempts at honorable lives — Hardy's character is hardened by a stint as a Marine, while Edgerton's teaching job can't even pay the bills — fail them, making their MMA bouts "noble" and their climactic confrontation as tender as it is "terrifyingly violent." The result: "For all its mayhem, it is a movie about love.""A tale of Jacob, Esau and muscles"

Actually, Warrior gets knocked out by its tired tropes: I have to disagree, says Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. The film is packed with so many cliches and coincidences that "I ended up feeling almost as bludgeoned by the movie" as the men in the ring. It's just too tritely predictable that the struggling-against-all-odds brothers end up in an "inevitable confrontation with each other, Dad, God, and destiny." More overkill: The score even features excerpts of "Ode to Joy." "Warrior: Exciting fight flick with a twisted ideology"

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