Talk about a house divided: In the left corner: seething military-man-cum-pugilist Tommy Conlon (Hardy), jonesing to step back in the ring after mysteriously arriving on the doorstep of his estranged ex-alcoholic father, Paddy (Nolte). In the right corner: cash-strapped family man, and Tommy's older brother, Brendan Conlon (Edgerton), whose salary as a high-school science teacher just ain't covering those mortgage payments. Fortunately, Paddy trained both his boys in boxing, wrestling and other such virile endeavors when they were youngsters. And there just happens to be a mixed martial arts tournament coming up in Atlantic City with a multiple-millions purse. Only one person can win.
We all know where this is going, and cowriter-director Gavin O'Connor's unabashed male weepie doesn't ever pretend otherwise. Every clich is embraced and amplified until it's positively steroidal, from the slickly visualized grit of the film's working-class Pittsburgh milieu (foreclosure-prone Middle America with an everything's-gonna-be-all-right Hollywood gloss) to the faux-suspenseful shakycam intensity of the MMA bouts themselves. (There's even an Ivan Drago--like Russian, comrades!) Yet it still works like gangbusters---tears will be stifled by the end of the sibling vs. sibling finale---and most of the credit should go to Hardy, Nolte and Edgerton. They create such a plausible familial rapport that even camp-flirty scenes like the one in which Tommy discovers Paddy in just-fell-off-the-wagon apoplexy (and listening to a book-on-tape of Moby Dick, to boot!) seem hard-hittingly authentic.
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