There are two ways to watch Warrior (out now in a new 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD reissue): one is as an inspirational sports movie that captures the excitement of mixed martial arts fighting and the other is an outlandish story about a Marine who commits an act of extreme bravery at the same time he's going AWOL in Iraq.
Directed by Gavin O'Connor (The Accountant), the story is hung on a wide-open MMA tournament funded by a Wall Street tycoon (played by O'Connor). Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy are brothers who became estranged when their parents divorced. Tommy (Hardy) left with their father Paddy (Nick Nolte), while Brendan (Edgerton) stayed behind with their mother and his then girlfriend/now wife (Tess).
That was years ago. Brendan is now a high school physics teacher with mortgage problems. He's looking for work as a bouncer at a strip club when he runs across a low-rent MMA smoker taking place in a tent in the club's parking lot. He wins the tournament and gets suspended from his school once they see his black eye and word gets out.
Tommy shows up at dad's house after years away and takes up fighting at the local gym. He crushes a title contender during a sparring match and the clip goes viral. He asks dad to train him even though he's mad at dad.
Both brothers somehow end up in the big tournament and you can guess who meets in the finals. A soldier in Iraq recognizes Tommy as the mysterious guy who saved him months before and Tommy (who's been using a fake last name) gets outed as an AWOL war hero. Somehow the MPs sent to arrest the Marine agree to let him participate in one last fight before they bring him in. If you're howling about how FAKE that is, you should really remember you're watching a story in which two amateur brothers are dominating the pros in a tournament with a $5 million purse.
Somehow, all of this works. The fight scenes are exceptional and both actors do a great job of faking their MMA skills, with considerable help from their professional opponents, the fight choreographer and O'Connor's skillful direction.
Lionsgate has been upgrading select titles from its catalog to 4K this year. Honestly, this title isn't one where the upgrade makes a huge difference. That doesn't take anything away from the accomplishment of the movie. It's got a premise and plot that fits right in with a lot of the straight-to-video low-rent action pictures that we love to review around here, but the acting and directing elevate this one to the status of a real movie. Nick Nolte even got an Oscar nomination for his performance in this film.