If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I know what people I going to think, because I thought it too. It's another underdog fighting movie. Its Rocky, but this time its mixed martial arts. Why can't they do anything original?
But you know what, this is a good preconception to go in with.
Within the first 20 minutes, a Rocky joke is made. And suddenly that lead weight is lifted. It knows. It knows its all been seen and done before. It knows that people are going to compare it to the plethora of fighting/boxing/underdog films that came before it. And when it is compared, i can say without a shadow of doubt, that it can stand tall.
What unfolds before you is a heart wrenching story of two brothers struggles. One of the brothers, Tommy (Tom Hardy) has returned from a mysterious past, must train with his ex-coach and estranged father (Nick Nolte), who is a recovering alcoholic. He must overcome his more than dodgy relationship with his father, to fight once more. The other brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) has the perfect life - he's got a very sexy wife, two lung daughters, a house and he's a teacher. Pretty damn ordinary, on the outside, BUT scratch the surface and things aren't as glossy as it appears. In debt up to his eye balls, he risks everything to take up fighting again, as a way to beef up his pay cheques. They both turn to a brand new mixed martial arts competition as their solutions. But which brother shall be the victor???
Tom Hardy is sublime. His performance is terrifying and gripping. He draws you into his broken life of hate and anger, until you're either willing things to turn around for him or just shit scared about what he might do next. As soon as he appears in the ring the tension builds to unbearable levels, because we know that unleashing Tommy is like unleashing a terrified Rotwieler with rabies and a killer hang over. The other guy is just a rabbit, and one way or another it won't be standing in a minute. For me, his performance is unforgettable, and just shows what a talented actor he is. Far more than just The-British-Dude-From-Inception, he might just be THE actor for the coming years. Combined with his spellbinding performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and his future portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, I am loving Tom Hardy right now. And so should everybody else.
This does't mean that Joel Edgerton isn't amazing too. On many levels, his storyline is even more tragic than Tommy's. The brothers are polar opposites, so when they finally meet up the angry electricity between the two actors, gives you goosebumps. You're actually scared what these two guys might do to each other (and they're not even in the ring yet). Edgerton's performance makes Brendan likeable and the true underdog. Determined to compete no matter what happens to him. Smaller than most of the other guys in the competition, you urge him on with every nerve in body. You want him to last just one more round. You want him to win! Brendan's character was in danger of being to smarmy and wimpy, but luckily Edgerton played him just right.
Because of these two amazing performances, and the harshly tragic back stories, you are so conflicted on who you want to win in the end. The audience flip-flops from one to the other. (Although, personally I sided with Tommy). So, when the finale comes, the audience is so conflicted that no matter who they choose, they just want both brothers to leave the ring in one piece.
The fighting scene are actually terrifying to watch. From the very first to the very worst, you cringe at the noises, and squirm at what you see. The close camera shots on the scissor-holds (see I've even learnt some of the lingo), convinces you on some level that these are for real. And when ever there is a knock out (and there are a few) your so shocked, you don't know whether to laugh at the loser, or hope he's still alive. I would like to know actually how much was faked? Because some of those scenes were way too realistic.
Overall, if you hadn't already guessed, there's not a bad things I say about this film. It is more than just a fighting film, with cool mixed martial arts moves, and men so muscly they look like The Hulk painted flesh-colour. It is a brother vs. brother emotional story fight. Who wins on the most tragic story - you decide. But there is one thing that is for sure, if you let this film pass you by you will regret it. If you keep that misconception that its just Rocky, or Ali or Real Steel with humans, then you will never understand the beauty behind good story writing or amazing acting. Just go see it! Or I'll get you in a scissor-hold!!! Grrr...