It’s completely understandable if you have preconceived ideas about this film (in a not good way). But it’s best to put them aside. The poster, undeniably fetishising the bodies of the two leads, doesn’t exactly help. The mixed martial arts in this film is incidental. It is not a film about mixed martial arts. (Or rather, I should say, Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC.) Instead it offers a very moving story of a family torn apart, with the conduit of that story being men fighting in cages.
Following active duty in
Iraq, Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns to to be reunited with his father (Nick Nolte), under whose reign of alcoholic abuse the family suffered. They form an uneasy alliance when Tommy recruits him as his trainer for an international UFC tournament. Older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a family man, high school teacher and also an ex-fighter. Money worries force him back into the cage and it’s only a matter of time before the two brothers meet – mano a mano. Pittsburgh
Hardy’s tortured loner with his monosyllables and wounded animal persona certainly offers more danger and mystique than Edgerton’s Mr Straight but it is Edgerton who is the revelation. As well as impressing with the physical stuff, the guy can really act. That is not to say Tom “So-Hot-Right-Now” Hardy can’t. But, in their scenes together, he does get somewhat KO’d by veteran Nick Nolte. As the pained father offering too little too late, in Nolte we see the pinnacle of a lifetime spent in movies - he just gets better and better. I am being slightly unfair to Hardy, considering he has more acting ability in a single nostril than the likes of an entire Chuck Norris; whereas Hardy really brings it when it comes to the scraps.
Even if you have no interest in UFC the fight scenes are impressively raw and realistic. Director Gavin O’Connor strikes just the right balance between
Hollywood gloss and indie grit to make the whole thing work – inside and outside the cage. It is a surprisingly thoughtful tale of a family, the abuse that family sustained and the resulting baggage; all set against an undeniably-thrilling mixed martial arts backdrop.