After running away from home with his mother some 15 years earlier, ex-soldier Tommy (Hardy) drops in on his drunken dad Paddy (Nolte). Tommy isn't impressed that Pop has found God and remained sober for three years, but he agrees to let Pop coach him again as a mixed martial arts fighter. Meanwhile, Tommy's brother Brendan (Edgerton) is estranged from both his brother and his dad. A family man teaching physics at a Philadelphia high school, he's in trouble with the bank over a dodgy mortgage, so returns to his Ultimate Fighter roots.
With a huge championship match coming up, the brothers are on a collision course to meet in the final. Yes, the plot's about as subtle as a stream of steady blows to the head, and the filmmakers don't miss a punch (sorry!) as they trawl through every fight movie to grab scenes of physical action, dark melodrama, sweet romance and of course sloppy sentimentality. As if that weren't enough, the final act is narrated play-by-play by two hyperbolic ringside announcers (Bryan Callen and Sam Sheridan).
And it's so relentless that it wears down our resistance, pressing our face against the cage fence and screaming, "You will cry now!" And it works. Along with some meaningful subtext about masculinity, the corny story manages to get under the skin. As the parallel plotlines finally converge in Atlantic City, there is real suspense as we wait for everyone to discover the big secret.
Hardy and Edgerton are adept actors, skilled at using their outrageously beefed-up physiques to convey elements of their characters that are missing from the blunt script. And Nolte does much more than expected with his badly underwritten role. Together, they make sure that we are gripped by this epic battle between the well-trained good guy and the scrappy mystery man. And of course we know that the real victory has nothing to do with the $5 million prize.
Run time: 140 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th September 2011
Box Office USA: $13.7M
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Production compaines: Lionsgate, Mimran Schur Pictures, Solaris Film, Filmtribe
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 145 Rotten: 30
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Producer: Greg O'Connor
Screenwriter: Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman
Starring: Tom Hardy as Tom Conlon, Jennifer Morrison as Tess Conlon, Nick Nolte as Paddy Conlon, Joel Edgerton as Brendan Conlon, Frank Grillo as Frank Campana, Kevin Dunn as Principal Zito, Maximiliano Hernández as Colt Boyd, Bryan Callen as Himself, Sam Sheridan as Himself, Jake McLaughlin as Mark Bradford, Vanessa Martinez as Pilar Fernandez, Denzel Whitaker as Stephon, Carlos Miranda as Tito, Nick Lehane as Nash, Laura Chinn as KC
Also starring: Gavin O'Connor