RING MASTER: Nick Nolte trains one of his sons for a big showdown in 'Warrior.'

BRANDISHING a fifth of Overactor's Choice whiskey and sobbing about the Pequod, Nick Nolte puts a third mortgage on his integrity to try to give Warrior some integrity of its own. First seen emerging from an AA meeting on a steeltown street, last seen fingering his tweed cap in farewell, Nolte almost draws enough water to float this barge. Director Gavin O'Connor (Miracle) tries to make a 2 1/2-hour Testament of Faith—big books with big titles ("STEINBECK") float onscreen behind Nolte to remind us of what the film is getting at.

Nolte's estranged offspring, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a Pittsburgh physics teacher by day, parking-lot prizefighter by night. His wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison), doesn't like where he's headed. Like so many good working people, Brendan is going glub glub glub, but when a smarmsville banker suggests bankruptcy, he tightly says that's not how it's done in his world. How it is done: He'll enter a $5 million mixed-martial arts competition called "Sparta" (pronounced "SPARTAAAAAA!"). He will probably be creamed by a Tartar: "the legendary Russian fighter Koba" (Stalin's code name!).

Meanwhile, his long-lost brother, Terry Malloy, whom he should have looked out for, emerges wait, that's actually Tom Hardy as Tommy, who has the carved Brando eyebrow from On the Waterfront. Too bitter to talk to Old Nolte, he's bitter enough to train with him. Tommy is also a veteran of Iraq, which he also will not talk about. A YouTube video does the talking for him. ("He ripped the door off a tank!" exclaims a commentator). Meanwhile, "The Russian Bear," who proudly wears the hammer and sickle on his shorts, is waiting for his chance to grapple.

There's a lot of offstage material that has to be described. The "wars" are one long series of two-man cluster fights. Summing up, Brendan's principal says, "Literally, it looks bad; figuratively, it looks worse." There's something politically scary in Warrior's astronomical Riefenstahlism. The film is inflated and needs a serious lancing, with its fireworks, helicopter shots, 300 singing Marines in khaki and the "Ode to Joy." The supposed emulation of '70s movie making (less Rocky than Rocky IV) misses the iconoclasm and intimacy of the real deal.



Opens September 9

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