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Still Punching

Nick Nolte rubs life into the old fight trainer's role in The Warrior

The broken-down old coach called upon in the winter of his life to rise to the occasion is a venerable device in sports films. You know him: lonely, sometimes gruff, sometimes repentant, more often than not drunk. Epitomized by Burgess Meredith's Mickey in Rocky, and made hilarious by Rip Torn's Patches O'Houlihan in Dodgeball, the archetype gets its latest embodiment in the gravelly voiced form of Nick Nolte in Warrior, which opens Friday.

Nolte plays Paddy Conlon, a recovering alcoholic who's enlisted by estranged son Tommy (Tom Hardy) to help him train for an MMA tournament to determine the world's top fighter. Paddy's other son, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), ends up a contender out of financial necessity, and Paddy must face his failures as a parent. Nolte (above, right) evokes equal parts sympathy and pity while clearly drawing upon his own struggles with addiction. The film is directed by Gavin O'Connor, who also did Miracle, and like that hockey-themed sports weeper, Warrior tugs on all the right heartstrings. But also like Miracle, it has its clichés, and its PG-13 rating keeps things too clean (not a drop of blood hits the octagon floor). But by the end, even the gruffest of Morris Buttermakers may be disarmed.