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Gavin O'Connor, unsung director, sneaks highly-touted 'Warrior' Sunday night

Why do some directors get "heat" -- and carte blanche from critics -- and others wait a decade or two to be discovered?

Gavin O'Connor started his moviemaking career with the unconventional relationship movie "Tumbleweeds," starring Janet McTeer as a rambling mother and Kimberly Brown as her daughter; McTeer won an Oscar nomination.

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Then O'Connor topped it with "Miracle," the movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that featured Kurt Russell in the performance of a lifetime as its coach, Herb Brooks -- a movie so acute in its depiction of a complex, brilliant character and so immense in its understated sympathy that it brought new meaning to the overused word "inspirational."

O'Connor next made the bristling New York cop movie "Pride and Glory," with Edward Norton at his veracious best as a New York cop pulled into a task force investigating a Washington Heights shoot-out that took down four fellow officers. It captured the richness and the insularity of police work when it's done as a family business -- as should have been expected from O'Connor, not only because he's a gifted writer-director with a special knack for colloquial talk, but also because he's from a police family (his dad retired as a detective sergeant).

When he was promoting "Pride and Glory," O'Connor told me about "a picture called 'Warrior,' about two brothers from a broken family, estranged for years, on a collision course to fight each other for the heavyweight championship of the world in a mixed martial arts contest." He said it would be a high-testosterone movie that was really about brothers and fathers and "healing, forgiveness and acceptance."

Now it's come to the screen, with Tom Hardy as the 14-year Marine vet who persuades his dad (Nick Nolte) to train him in mixed martial arts, and Joel Edgerton as his brother, a fighter-turned-teacher, who climbs into the same ring in hopes of making his own family solvent again.

Thanks to enthusiastic advance reviews, the film's distributor, Lionsgate, has scheduled an unusual Sunday-night-at-7 sneak preview for Labor Day weekend at theaters nationwide. If you're seeing it in Baltimore, I might see you there. After "Miracle" and "Pride and Glory," I'm hoping for a knock-out.

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