When a new MMA fighting tournament is set up with a 5 million dollar prize for the last man left standing, it gets a lot of peoples attention. Brendan Colton (Joel Edgerton), an ex-UFC fighter, now high school physics teacher is about to default on his house leaving him and his family with nowhere to go. With no other options he starts training again with aspirations of the prize. Unknown to him however his estranged brother Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy) is also going after the money while being trained by both of their estranged, now sober father (Nick Nolte). Tommy’s got some damage and isn’t looking to work things out with anyone but soon it becomes increasingly clear that it’s going to come down to the ring to sort things out.
This is a fantastic film. It takes its time and it sets up all of the relationships beautifully before finally coming down to the tournament that we, as an audience, are so ready for. Edgerton is great as the ‘goody’ of the movie but he’s just dwarfed by the performances of both Hardy and Nolte. You don’t like Tommy in the beginning, and he acts like a dick for most of the movie, but as all the layers are pealed off you begin to see why he is as he is and you can’t help but beginning to like him as well. There is no true antagonist just a lot of grey areas surrounding some fucked up relationships.
The fights, while not really that big a part of the movie until maybe the last 20 minutes, are electrifying to watch. You are right there with all the secondary characters as they watch the matches going down. This wasn’t like Moneyball where I have no interest in the sport so I didn’t care what was going on. I have no interest in MMA either but I was wriggling around in my seat and actually vocalising suggestions because the fights were so absorbing.
One final point, which I think will be lost in most other reviews because of how good everyone else is in this film, is that the relationship between Edgerton’s character and his wife Tess, played by Jennifer Morrison, is just lovely to watch. All too often the wife is a shrieking harpy or the pointless add on to our main character but in this she was every bit as equal to Brendan. She’s the main bread winner, she encourages him when he needs it but she also calls him on his crap when he needs it as well. When she’s angry with him it’s not because he doesn’t listen to her on occasion but because she’s afraid he’s going to get himself killed. She is one of the most fully actualised real women I’ve seen in a film in ages and it’s a shame we don’t get more characters like her.
This was definitely one of the unsung greats of 2011 and I implore anyone who hasn’t seen it to definitely check it out. It’s not just a good sports movie, although it is that as well, but also a really well told drama 5/5