Execution is key. On the paper, 2011’s Warrior could’ve been a tepid, familiar sports/family drama with a cookie-cutter story and expected beats. But Gavin O’Conner’s tender, visceral, effectively grounded film is a bonafide winner, notably in how it brings out the goods with its lead actors, including Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, and Tom Hardy. As the beefed-up ex-marine who clashes with his brother in a mixed martial arts tournament, Hardy is gruff and intimidating, but we often see his moody, reflective side.
While it’s easy to focus on his muscle-bound intensity, what truly makes this performance sing is the soft sensitivity Hardy showcases in the quieter, more intimate moments. Hardy’s performance, much like the fine work of his co-stars, is a key reason why Warrior transcends cliches and potential melodramatic tendencies to become an affecting, engrossing tale of masculinity, emotional distance, dysfunctional homes, and self-discovery. Stream it on Hulu.