Warrior is a fiercely moving family drama set against the backdrop of a mixed martial arts championship. Intense is an understatement here. Director Gavin O' Connor (Miracle) delivers blows in the ring and out. Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) and Joel Edgerton (Kinky Boots, Revenge of the Sith) star as Tommy and Brendan Conlon. Two brothers separated in their teens because of their drunken father's (Nick Nolte) abusive behavior. Fifteen years later, they have become vastly different men. Tommy is a devastated Iraq war vet. Brendan is a high school physics teacher, happily married with children. Both are in desperate need of money. To get it, they do the one thing they each do well - fight. Wrestling champions as young men, chance and circumstance lead them to Sparta - a five million dollar Ultimate Fighting Championship. The competition will lead these men, and their father, back into each others lives to face the dark past they all ran away from.

This film is an emotional sledgehammer. I was totally caught off guard by how serious and dramatic the story is. The fighting is brutal, but if you go to see Warrior expecting pure fisticuffs, you will be very disappointed. Clocking in at one hundred and thirty-nine minutes, Warrior's depiction of these brothers' motivations and their father's quest for redemption is spellbinding. The scenes are so palpable, you can feel the tension rippling from the screen. There isn't a second where you are not connected to these characters. Gavin O' Conner's script does not shy away from establishing character. The audience really gets to know the Conlon's. They are deeply troubled people facing issues that have torn at their insides for years. To juxtapose this family dynamic against the savagery of the fights is genius.

The philosophical core of Warrior is simply, what is worth fighting for? Tommy and Brendan Conlon will fight to the death to accomplish their goals. They have a visualization of purpose that is breathtaking to see on screen. A lot of people are comparing this film to Rocky, and while I think Rocky is overall a better film, Warrior's motivations are far deeper than winning a title for glory. I have been vcareful to be as spoiler-free as I can, but nothing is more important in life than family...or who you perceive as family. I tell you this is damn good stuff, riveting.

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are going to be stars. It takes major acting chops to physically and emotionally inhabit these characters. Hardy looks like a feral beast in the ring. I can see why he will dominate the screen as Bane in next year's Batman sequel. Edgerton sports a bruised, but tender demeanor as he pummels opponents; with his wife and students cheering him along. There were a few tears at the climax, and I must say I was a little misty-eyed myself. Warrior is an epic, beautiful film, a must see and my first film of 2011 that deserves consideration from the Academy.

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