WARRIOR “Now touch nipples and come out fighting. Did I say ‘nipples’? I meant fists! FISTS!!”

MAYBE IT'S SADISTIC or sexual (it's probably both), but there's something about the sight of two grotesquely muscular, tough-as-nails, stronger-than-fuck dudes beating the holy hell out of each other. It's an emotional thing, too. Forget cancer-of-the-week movies and sad, sorry tales that end with someone shooting the dog. Nothing's more likely to make the back of the throat feel fuzzy—and shut up, I'm just fixing my contact lens for a second—than tying a bit o' drama onto blood-spattered, broken-toothed, fist-upon-flesh action.

For that, Warrior joins Rocky and Raging Bull (no, not you, Million Dollar Baby, go home) in the Fightin' Movie Hall of Fame, where thrillingly brutal punches are interspersed with dollops of pathos. Actually, Warrior does those boxing flicks one better, since it's about mixed martial arts, so there are not only fists—there's kicking, wrestling, karate, and more.

All its wondrous violence aside, Warrior deserves to be seen for the outstanding performances by Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, two actors who have delivered astonishingly good work in recent years and perhaps their best here. Edgerton plays Brendan and Hardy is Tommy—brothers estranged from each other and their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), due to a family backstory that the movie hints at but takes great pains not to fully explain.</p>

At Warrior's start, Tommy is reunited with Paddy, a recovering alcoholic, and asks him to coach him back into fighting shape. Of course, it helps that Tommy is angry, bloodthirsty, and inhumanly strong—he's a virtually indestructible fighter. Brendan, meanwhile, is supporting his family by supplementing his high-school teaching salary with winnings from illegal parking-lot fights. When he's suspended for showing up to class with a black eye, he starts fighting full time—his wife hates it!—and soon both Brendan and Tommy are on their way to a grand prix tournament in Atlantic City. Could they possibly end up... fighting each other?

You're probably rolling your eyes at the clichés thus far, as well you should. But that's the whole point of a movie like Warrior: to bounce between well-worn, predictable banalities and insanely vicious fight scenes. The script, co-written by director Gavin O'Connor, does a decent job of keeping you guessing, although the fists really don't start flying until it gets through a poky, sullen first half. Some of the combat may be hard to follow for those who don't watch much UFC, but in all, Warrior is gut-clobberingly, face-smashingly good.