Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Opens locally on Friday, September 9th, 2011
Run Time: 2 hours, 19 minutes
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison
Directed by Gavin O’Connor
There’s something about an underdog story. In “Warrior,” we get the very familiar premise of the down and out fighter and his unlikely rise to the top, powered by sheer will. When done poorly, this kind of film becomes a Rocky-wanna-be…it could have been a contender, but falls into the clichés of the genre. When done well (think last year’s “The Fighter”), it can be a gripping example of overcoming the odds, inspiring us to think that we can accomplish anything.
In “Warrior,” we get the familiar, but with an injection of new blood. First, the tale is set in the world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) as opposed to boxing, and this provides a new level of interest, especially for those (like me) who doesn’t know a UFC from a UFO. Most compelling of all, we get not one, but two intertwined tales of fighters, who provide the backbone of the movie.
The two brothers are in completely different situations, but both have their reasons for wanting to compete in an upcoming MMA Tournament, the “Super Bowl” of the MMA world. Tom Hardy plays Tommy Conlon, a war vet and the epitome of the boiling angry hot-head you’d expect to find in this kind of movie. He has his guard up in and out of the ring, channeling his rage at life into each punch, knee, and kick. His brother Brendan, played by Joel Edgerton, is nearly his opposite. Married, with children, Brendan is facing foreclosure and losing everything. He needs to fight quite literally for his survival…winning may be his only way out.
Taking a note from “The Fighter,” “Warrior” smartly is a character-based drama as much as it is an action-packed fighting film. Both brothers have a rocky (pun intended) relationship with their father, played with grizzled focus by Nick Nolte. He is a former fighter himself, which explains the children’s connection to the sport. He was also a severe alcoholic, who has now come clean, although his past sins are hard to wash away. It’s a testament to the script, and the actors, that we feel a great deal of background between Nolte, Hardy, and Edgerton, without the need of flashbacks or long passages of exposition. That’s good acting, and in Nolte’s case, maybe to the level of award consideration.
So Tommy can’t forget the past, Brendan is struggling with the present, and the father is trying desperately to forge a new future. Mix it all up, and you find yourself in the midst of a heart-wrenching tale about family.
But this is no Lifetime movie. There is blood, lots of it, and intense fighting sequences that fans of MMA will surely love. You can definitely understand the gladiator appeal of watching men tear each other apart, and given the circumstances of the two brothers, you can understand why they do what they do. Throughout the film, we are introduced to the other fighters in the tournament, which creates even more intense excitement when these recurring characters square off later in the movie.
So in “The Fighter,” or “Rocky,“ we know who we are cheering for. But which brother do we side with here? One of the few faults of “Warrior” is that it establishes both characters as redeemable, only to turn one into the villain late in the game. Even with this easy-way-out approach, by the end of the film you arrive in the place you are supposed to, even if the film takes a detour.
The “Warrior” is not as long-lasting or memorable as “Rocky,” but it stands on its own as a solid, and unexpectedly personal film about redemption, family, and fighting. Sometimes it’s the struggles outside the ring that deliver more of a punch. “Warrior” may stagger at times, but it never falls victim to the clichés of the ring.
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