Grade: B+/A-
Entire family: No
2011, 140 min., Color
Sports drama
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+/A-
Includes: 4K UltraHD, Blu-ray, DigitalHD
Amazon link

I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I would have bet against Warrior, a 2011 sports drama from writer-director Gavin O’Connor.

I would not have believed that an old-style boxing (mixed martial arts, actually) film could successfully appropriate the Rocky Philadelphia setting, the Rocky notion of an underdog who’s out of his league, the Rocky subplot of a woman in the boxer’s life not wanting him to fight, and a Russian champion who comes to the U.S. for “the big fight” . . . and put it all together in a package that’s just as engrossing and exciting as that 1976 benchmark boxing film.

It helps that the plot turns on a former alcoholic boxer and boxing trainer who is estranged from his two adult sons, and that Nick Nolte plays the father, Paddy Conlon. It helps too that Tom Hardy plays the younger brother, an intense young man who holds a grudge against his older high-school-teacher brother, Brendon (Joel Edgerton). The performances of the three male leads are searing and help to elevate a film that throws every boxing cliché into the ring. Yes, we’ve seen it all before, but not like this. The characters may be familiar types, but each actor brings something new to the formula. Warrior runs a hefty 140 minutes, but it never drags.

The film establishes the baseline for this dysfunctional family when Tommy—a former Marine who was clearly scarred by events in Afghanistan even more than he was by a breakup that saw the brothers splitting to go with different parents—returns home, not to mend fences, but to enlist his father as a no-nonsense, no-reconciliation trainer. He has a good reason for entering a mixed martial arts tournament with a world-record $5 million purse, and it has nothing to do with himself or his family.

Older brother Brendan, meanwhile, is about to lose his house. Times are tough and teachers in America aren’t paid enough. Ask around. You’ll find that many of them have to moonlight because the pay is so low, and Brendan has secretly gone back to fighting. His wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) hates the idea, but Brendan is determined to join the very same tournament his brother is entered in . . . though at the time he doesn’t realize his brother is fighting. The tournament organizers don’t know about the family connection either, as Tommy has decided to go by his mother’s maiden name rather than take the name of his boozy father. In effect, viewers get a choose-your-own hero story.

As I said, there’s very little in this film that you haven’t already seen in other boxing films, but O’Connor and his cast and crew really put together a sports drama that’s every bit as gripping as Rocky, and they manage to do so within the bounds of a PG-13 film. In Tommy, we get a character as brooding, as dangerous, and as unpredictable as we’ve seen in a boxing film. Tommy is a powderkeg, and that helps shape the film’s considerable tension. Who will bear the brunt of it when he goes off? His father? His brother? An opponent inside the right? Outside the ring? One standout scene illustrates that in a big way.

This Lionsgate release offers a good comparison between the new 4K UltraHD and HD Blu-ray. The Blu-ray comes closer to the DVD
in quality, while the 4K doesn’t only feature richer colors and more “pop,” as we’ve seen in previous UltraHD releases. It also is noticeably sharper in the detail department. The bonus features also warrant some comment. The making-of documentary is better than average, but the features on mixed martial arts are exceptionally good for the uninformed, and there’s also a deleted scene, gag reel, and commentary track (no Hardy or Nolte, unfortunately).

Is it family-friendly? Good question, even for a PG-13 film. Is any boxing or martial arts movie “family-friendly”? If you consider the themes, the models of behavior, the glimpse of life as it’s lived on the other side of the tracks, then yes, Warrior has value because of the values inherent in the film.

Language: The usual PG-13 fare, with one f-bomb, another mouthed f-bomb, and a full complement of lesser swearwords like “shit” and “hell” and “damn” and “ass”
Sex: Nothing besides a woman being shown in her underwear and shirtless men
Violence: It’s all about mixed martial arts fighting, and while intense and extreme there’s surprisingly little blood
Adult situations: Drinking, drunkenness, and prescription drug abuse
Takeaway: Warrior goes toe-to-toe with Rocky, battling to a split decision—and I may even like this film more