A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a touching family drama wrapped in an intense "David vs. Goliath"-style fight. The movie deals with some weighty issues that most younger kids won't fully understand: the conflicted relationship between fathers and sons, the estrangement of brothers, alcoholism, and the willingness of a husband and father to do whatever it takes to help his family. The movie's many mixed martial arts sequences are fast and furious and feature a lot of beatdowns, but no one is killed -- just down for the count. There's some profanity ("s--t," "ass," "goddamned," etc.) and some marital intimacy (two bathroom conversations with the couple half-dressed, and a kiss or two), but otherwise it's really only the themes and violence that make this movie an iffy pick for younger viewers.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Troubled Iraq vet Tommy (Tom Hardy) returns home for the first time in more than a decade with one purpose -- to get back in the "cage" of mixed martial arts and provide for a fallen fellow Marine's family. A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy asks his father (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic, to train him for Sparta: a high-profile, winner-takes-all competition with a $5 million purse. Meanwhile, Tommy's estranged brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a former UFC fighter turned physics teacher, realizes that he must also get back in the cage to raise much-needed money to save his home. An unexpected opportunity allows Brendan to join his fierce younger brother in the single-elimination tournament ... but before meeting in the ring, they must face their troubled past.
Is it any good?
Director Gavin O'Connor has created a perfect vehicle for two of Hollywood's most compelling imported actors: English scene-stealer Hardy and Aussie leading man Edgerton. Both are positively amazing in this film, but they personify completely opposing cinematic types. Hardy's Tommy is the aloof champion with a tortured soul, and Edgerton's Brendan is the scrappy underdog who will stop at nothing to keep his family intact. The brothers are like two suns, with the other characters orbiting around one or the other and the audience left figuring out whom is more deserving of their loyalty.
Both men are flawed, but the director tips the balance in Brendan's favor by showing his circle of supporters: an inspiring coach (Frank Grillo) who uses Beethoven's music to keep his fighters calm in the cage; a beautiful, loving wife (House alum Jennifer Morrison); and a classroom of awed high-school students who can't help but cheer for their science teacher. Nolte is also a revelation, his croaky voice underscoring Paddy's tremendous sadness at having alienated both of his sons. Despite all of the movie's thrilling MMA sequences, this is ultimately a poignant family drama where it's brotherly love, not millions of dollars, that's at stake.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's violence. How does the mixed martial arts (MMA) style of fighting compare to straight boxing or professional wresting? Which is more violent?
How does the movie portray father-son relationships? Is the father a sympathetic character or a pathetic one? Do his sons come off as justified in their treatment of him?
Tommy and Brendan aren't typical movie brothers. How do they differ from other competitive brothers? Which brother is more likable -- the champion or the underdog?
Brendan is a beloved high-school science teacher. Is his relationship with his students believable? Would you root for a teacher in a similar situation?
- In theaters: September 9, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: December 20, 2011
- Cast: Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy
- Director: Gavin O'Connor
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Run time: 139 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of intense mixed-martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material
- Last updated: October 30, 2020
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