Genre: Drama & Sports
Synopsis: In years long past, Paddy Conlon was a drunkard and abusive, driving away his wife and one of his sons and creating enmity with his other son. During more recent years, Paddy has been living alone and has had a change in life. He no longer drinks, thanks to his "pal Jesus," and he is trying to reconcile with his sons (his wife has died), but one son, Tommy Conlon, is only interested in his dad as a coach, as a way back into MMA fighting, and Brendan Conlon is okay with forgiving his dad but can't trust him yet. Now, Brendan finds himself in need of a job and begins to take up MMA fighting again. Then, both brothers must face each other at a large championship, Brendan, following his father's footsteps in forgiveness, and Tommy bitter and angry and ready to hurt anyone who gets in his way.
Positives: There is an extremely subtle Christian message in this story. With Paddy leaving Church in the beginning of the movie, a bible sitting on a table in Paddy's living room, and Tommy briefly asking Paddy where Jesus was when his mother was dying. If you listen closely, you can also hear that Paddy has given up drinking due to the change Jesus made in his life, and at the end, some of the t-shirts read with very hidden Christian messages. Tommy is battling anger and bitterness and through Paddy and Brendan's witness he comes to the breaking point and accepts their forgiveness. Paddy attempts reconciliation with both sons, and Brendan is ready to forgive both his father and his brother. Brendan's wife, though unhappy about his choice to rejoin MMA, later supports him.
Negatives: Some language. The MMA fighting can be brutal at times, with the fighters breaking each other's bones, throwing each other across the arena, and Tommy is especially brutal, out there to win and not caring about the other person. An underdressed woman walks past the screen at one of the competitions (short but there). Paddy relapses to drinking at one point due to depression but when Tommy reaches out to him, he recovers. Paddy is definitely not perfect though he is changed by Jesus.
Conclusion: I watched this movie 2.5 times and understood things better the more I watched it. The message was touching, even if the end seemed abrupt, and I was surprised at the subtle Christian messages in a secular film. It was nice to see a film go deep, digging into anger and forgiveness, themes that most movies don't touch on. The acting was also very impressive. I would recommend this for ages 13+ boys and girls, though some girls may not appreciate the MMA fighting, but I think the storyline was worth it, and the fighting did lend to the storyline, as the director, Gavin O'Connor, told Plugged In, the title doesn't just refer to "guys in a cage beating the heck out of each other . . . the intention of the title had more to do with spiritual warfare."
Rating: 5 (Loved it!)