Directed by Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison
Gavin O’Connor is the writer and director behind this 2011 surprise hit film that Rolling Stone Magazine called “appropriately blunt, powerful and relentless.” O’Connor’s previous work includes the 2008 film Pride and Glory starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. This time he teamed up with Oscar nominee Nick Nolte (Mulholland Falls, The Thin Red Line), Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Band of Brothers), Joel Edgerton (King Arthur, The Odd Life of Timothy Green), and Jennifer Morrison (House M.D., Star Trek).
When Tommy Conlon (Hardy) shows up at the home of his alcoholic father (Nolte) he’s looking for help. Despite their bad blood, Tommy is hoping that his father, a retired trainer, can help him prepare for a series of fights. Meanwhile, his brother Brendan (Edgerton) and his wife Tess (Morrison) are looking for a way to save their home. As a teacher and former fighter, Brendan is pulled back to fighting as a chance to save everything he has. As the two struggle to prepare, they don’t realize that they are on a collision course.
This was a surprisingly good film. I was caught up from the beginning with the powerful story lines that are revealed throughout the film in layers, each one making the purposes behind the fighting so clear. This might be one of the more under-recognized films of 2011, with a powerful script, great visuals, and a cast that brought all of it to life.
Edgerton and Hardy do a wonderful job playing people who have so much in common, and yet seem as far apart as people can get. Hardy does a wonderful job working with a role that called for powerful emotion to be just under the surface throughout the whole film. Edgerton also did wonderfully with his role as a torn family man and ex-fighter looking for a chance to save what he loves.
Between them is the performance of Nolte, who gives one of the best performances of his career. He earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. As the father and recovering alcoholic, Nolte ties together all of the emotions in the movie. In a smaller role, Jennifer Morrison also did a great job playing the wife of a fighter while avoiding the clichés that often come with that kind of role.
I was also really surprised and happy to see some of the faces in the film come straight from the MMA community. It definitely added a level of credibility to the film. The rest of the cast also do a great job with the roles they were given.
The fight scenes in the movie were really well done. I was surprised that the MMA style fighting was depicted so realistically. They also avoided using too many technical terms or anything that only the UFC crowd understands. This made the movie one that I would recommend to a much wider audience, since it doesn’t make the fighting or even the style of fighting too important. In the end, the movie could have been about karate or boxing and it would have still been very good.
I think this is one that Rocky fans have been waiting for. Unlike The Fighter, another great fight film, this one took a different route. I’m glad since it made the story feel fresh and interesting. This movie should work for people who like sports films as well as people who love a good drama. I give this one 4.5 out of 5 stars.