Tom Hardy as Tommy
Joel Edgerton as Brendan
Nick Nolte as Paddy
Jennifer Morrison as Tess
Written/Directed by Gavin O’Connor
Synopsis: the physically and emotionally painful story of the estranged Conlons, who, for a couple of very obvious reasons, are unhappily reunited for a record-setting MMA tournament. All the men have their own demons to battle with, and everything comes to a head in the weeks leading up to the big event.
Breakdown: it hurts to watch this movie. There’s a bit of a scene at the very end of the film that includes pain that I have personally experienced (which resulted in surgery and months of physical therapy) and I swear, that damn thing flares up when I see it happen on screen. Being in my 30s, after a non-stop athletic career in high school (with a few revival attempts in college through the present day), I can also relate to Brendan’s aching hobble around his house after a parking lot fight. But that’s not the worst of it.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character portrayed with so much depth as Tommy Riordan (Conlon). He’s never free from any of the horrors he’s experienced in his short life, and they wear him down every minute. I think that’s why the ending of the film is so colossal—his past has become bigger than him and he can’t hide it, can’t contain the pain any longer. Seeing Tommy continue along his chosen path, even when we know he’s going to self-destruct, to succumb to everything that’s weighing on him, is nearly unbearable. Thankfully, there is reconciliation between the brothers, at the very least, even if it’s only implied. It’s a heartbreaking character study, but you can feel the shadow of victory hovering behind the glare of devastation.
When the three main characters’ parts in the story are shown in their own light, allowed to break free from the overwhelming pain of the Conlon family, all you can see is the common thread of desperation. You hope for an absolution, an end to all of the crap that’s gone down and made life such a struggle for these three men. It’s not clear whether it really works for Paddy, but his character seems beyond a family reconciliation, and can only hope for in internal reckoning.
So: will you enjoy it? I’m not sure. I don’t even know if I enjoyed it. It’s a great film, even won an Oscar® (Nick Nolte is exceptional), but you can’t ever really enjoy seeing so much pain. It’s fairly authentic, as several of the cast of MMA athletes are real fighters, and the bleakness of the setting really adds to the despair. The men are very nice to look at, as well. (I have a thing for tattoos, so I’m all about the fight scenes.) It’s definitely one to see at least once.
Weepy factor: 6/10 It’s a given for me that I will cry during this movie. I’d say a solid 25% of the time I was in tears. So I’m cutting the rest of you, who probably are not a leaky garden hose like me, a bit of slack. But I’m betting you’ll cry a little bit.
Man factor: 10/10 He’s already seen it.
Overall rating: 9/10 Too good not to get a high rating, but too sad for a perfect score. If I were a man, it would have gotten it, but the estrogen gets in the way. Sorry, Gavin. Not your fault.