And his performance is as powerful as one of his knockout punches in WARRIOR (12: Lionsgate), a rousing mix of sports and family drama.
The film makes an impact from its very first scene, with Tommy Conlon (Hardy) cutting a dark and brooding figure, simmering with pent-up anger, as he sits drunk on his estranged father’s doorstep.
It soon becomes evident that his alcoholic dad (Nick Nolte, deservedly nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) split the family, leading the young Conlon brothers to take very different paths.
The elder, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), throws in a promising career as a fighter to become a high school teacher, while Tommy joins the marines.
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There’s bitterness and resentment on all sides and reconciliation seems impossible until the siblings enter a mixed martial arts tournament.
The pace of the story is faultless, with snatches of family history never undermining the action, and it’s all brought to a head in an emotional finale that rivals Rocky.
> Rowan Atkinson is back as the spy oblivious to his own incompetence in lively comedy sequel JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (PG: Universal).
The bumbling secret agent retires to a Tibetan monastery in disgrace after a mission goes wrong, but he’s lured out of retirement by his former bosses at MI7 to hunt down an international group of assassins plotting to kill the Chinese premier.
Armed with the most high-tech gadgets the world of espionage has to offer, English sets off across the globe to bring the bad guys to book, unaware that the real threat may be closer to home.
Gillian Anderson and Dominic West as fellow MI7 operatives add to the fun with their straight-faced support, yet this is clearly Atkinson’s show from start to finish.
He’s great value as the idiot sleuth, although some of the stunts and set pieces would be better suited to the slapstick antics of Mr Bean.
> Well-crafted supernatural horror flick DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (15: Studio Canal) makes you jump on cue and really delivers the grisly goods.
Nasty critters appear in this remake of an acclaimed 1973 American TV movie.
Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) goes to live with her architect father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) at the 19th century Rhode Island mansion they are restoring.
Stumbling upon a hidden basement, Sally unleashes an ancient dormant force that puts everyone’s life in grave danger.
From its atmospheric Hammer horror opening to its expertly staged creature attacks, featuring imps travelling through air ducts with sharp weaponry, this superior flight of dark fantasy bears the unmistakable touch of class of writer Guillermo Del Toro and contains more than a few nods to his earlier Pan’s Labyrinth.
> Starring Timothy Spall and Honor Blackman, REUNITING THE RUBINS (PG: Kaleidoscope) is amiably amusing, but not the rollicking Jewish comedy that debut director Yoav Factor strives for.
He’s well served by the reliable Spall as retired lawyer Lenny Rubins, who postpones a well-deserved luxury cruise to reunite his bickering grown-up children for their ailing grandma (Blackman).
They may be peas from the same pod, but in Lenny’s eyes his children – a workaholic executive, an eco-warrior, a Buddhist monk and a rabbi – are not from the same planet.
His offspring are reluctant to answer the call, especially when Blackman reveals that she has bought the home in which they spent their unhappy childhood.
Preachy topics such as globalisation, human rights, religious intolerance and family ties are given an overblown airing, and a series of heart-to-hearts and medical emergencies produce little more than than a mediocre sitcom.
> BEST LAID PLANS (15: Sony), a tale of recessional Nottingham, represents a ham-fisted attempt to update John Steinbeck’s masterpiece Of Mice And Men.
Dreaming of living in a camper van, gentle giant Joseph (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) does everything wheeler-dealer protector Danny (Stephen Graham) asks of him, even if it means cage fighting to help his pal pay off his debts to a local lowlife.
But Joseph unwittingly jeopardises their safety when he becomes besotted with equally simple soul Isabel (Maxine Peake).
With Danny falling for a tart with a heart (Emma Stansfield), the film struggles to staunch the sentiment and cliche.
Contrived plotting and clumsy characterisation undermine it at every turn, although good use is made of the rundown locations and it conveys something of the struggle those on the lower rungs face to keep hold of fleeting pleasures.