When I say the phrase “sports movie,” what may come to mind are films such as Field of Dreams or Remember the Titans. When I say “martial arts movie,” perhaps you are thinking of films such as Enter the Dragon or Fists of Fury. It starts to get a tad tricky when I ask people to think about a film centered around mixed martial arts. People’s responses range from gritty movies like Fight Club to some of the SyFy Channel schlock that stars UFC fighters. With the director of Miracle at the helm of Warrior, you get a fairly good idea of what kind of movie you’re in for, as this film offers us a Rocky-styled experience.
The story of this film focuses on two brothers, Brendon, played by Joel Edgerton, and Tommy, played by Tom Hardy. Both brothers have a strained relationship with their father, played by Nick Nolte, and with each other. Unique circumstances cause the two brothers to take up MMA fighting and enter the Sparta fighting tournament. As the trailer suggests, the two brothers end up facing one another in the ring.
The first thing I noticed with this film is that it didn’t have the very nasty habit of overusing handheld shots. While they are plentiful, this film has a nice balance between handheld shots and stationary shots, something that has been an annoying trend in the medium as of late. The cinematography is pretty dynamic and often echoes the types of shots used in televised UFC bouts.
The drama and character development in this film is pretty intense, which is surprising for a sports film. These characters aren’t underdogs who rise up and win the day like in the sports films of the 80’s. They feel like real people with very real issues, making it difficult to decide who you’re rooting for in the climactic fight between the two brothers.
The intense story is counter-pointed with the fast pace of the action scenes as the two brothers fight in the tournament. It’s interesting to note that a few UFC fighters make cameos in the film, so chances are they were also consultants to the filmmakers, explaining the realism.
The stunt work in this film is also something to marvel at, as each strike, throw and pin makes you cringe in your seat as you see the unlucky character wince in pain. While gritty choreography is common in most films nowadays, this film seems to have paid some extra attention to the detail and mechanics of the techniques performed.
Overall, this film is definitely one worth watching as we begin the awards season, as it may have The Help on the ropes when it comes time award the Oscar. Although it borrows the same tropes from other sports movies like Miracle, the deep characters and fast-paced action will keep you engaged until the credits roll. If you’re a sports movie fan, a UFC fan, or neither, this is a film that you’d enjoy. On my scale, this film gets a 5/5, a unique entry into the sports film genre.