In a tale almost as old as time (and certainly the Bible), Gavin O'Connor's Warrior takes the Cain and Abel story of rival brothers, updates it for modern times and places it smack bang in the arena of Ultimate Fighting. The biggest surprise is just how effective - and affecting - O'Connor's film is.
That's despite a trailer which reveals almost every plot point of the film bar the actual winner of the showdown - between Conlon brothers, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy) - that constitutes the climax of Warrior, and a running time of 140 minutes (though to be fair, it's not a slog).
The brothers have been estranged since their adolescence, when Tommy and their mother left the violent, drunken household of their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte); Brendan chose to remain behind, not out of love for or loyalty to his father but for his high school sweetheart, and now wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison).
In the intervening years, Tommy witnessed the death of his mother and joined the US marines for deployment to Iraq, while Brendan became a husband and father of two as well as a high school Physics teacher, a job which puts food on the table but not nearly enough to keep up the mortgage payments.
And such is the state of the US economy, the brothers, who wrestled and boxed in their youth, are drawn back to the ring (or cage as the case may be) and an Ultimate Fighting tournament in Atlantic City boasting a winner's purse of $5 million. That kind of money will do a lot to alleviate Brendan's financial burdens as well as help Tommy fulfil a promise to a fallen marine buddy. It's the only reason Tommy has returned to his father's home: Paddy might be a drunk (although he's 100 days sober when we meet him) but the guy's a damn good trainer.
Ultimate Fighting, by the way, is a mixed martial arts sport which, to an outsider such as myself, would appear to be no-holds barred. Although in a sport that makes boxing look positively genteel, you're not allowed to attack the groin of your opponent (seemingly the most obvious and effective manoeuvre to this novice).
While the tournament takes up most of the film's second half, Warrior succeeds because of the human drama at its centre. And all three men give impressive performances. Hardy, no doubt already bulking up for his role as the villainous Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, is a beast of man but we're still able to glimpse the bruised heart behind the mighty big chip on his shoulder (and in spite of his often mumbled speech).
Nolte, after some bad performances of late (see his grizzled father in this year's Arthur, or rather, don't), gets his best role in years as a father who knows he's done wrong by his boys and is trying hard - and seemingly on a hiding to nothing - to make it right. Still, I don't think there is enough of a performance here to warrant the Oscar buzz the veteran actor has been generating for this role.
But the real revelation is Joel Edgerton. Given the meatiest role of his career to date, the Aussie actor rises to the challenge, making Brendan Conlon a believable family man who sees the only way to secure his family's future is to put his body on the line. Edgerton's working class Philly accent may waver but he never does, effortlessly balancing the tough with the tender: Hollywood take note.
If you're averse to fight films, or sporting films generally, then I can understand that Warrior will be a tough sell. But much like The Fighter earlier this year (which it will draw comparisons with not only for the fighting but for the brotherly relationship at its core), O'Connor's film is more about the people than the punching.
While Warrior doesn't have that vein of humour which The Fighter had running through it, nor does the drama weigh it down. And when that final blow comes - emotional and not physical - it'll take a harder person than most not to be won over.