Review: Warrior

jason stives reviews the mixed martial arts drama …

I live by the belief that comparing two films with similar ideas is a waste of energy and examining creative development. That being said, comparing Warrior, the new mixed martial arts film starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, to this past years’ Oscar-winning boxing film The Fighter, is a convoluted mistake. While both are fight films, one relies more on the presence of the story, while the other relies on a strong narrative.

Everyone loves an underdog story, and that’s why the Fighter was so appealing — but it’s also a played-out vehicle in a time when the relevancy of boxing has declined. Warrior relies on not the spirit of seeing the character conquer adversity but the relative nature of working and dedicated men suffering through moral dilemmas and hardships to grasp their prize and overcome their past.

For this reason, I can see why Warrior can be viewed as the modern-day underdog film. Both main characters, brothers Brendan (Edgerton) and Tommy (Hardy), fight against a rough past, one more damaging than the other. Both brothers have escaped the tortures and distrust of their alcoholic father (played by Nick Nolte), but one has come out more damaged by it.

The performances are what make the rather stale and predictable plot work, as each actor immerses themselves in their respected role. For those still tinkering with his worth in the role of Bane in next summers The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy, as he has proven time and again, has a dynamic physicality that both leaps off the screen but also inundates the audience with familiarity. As Tommy, a former hero marine with a dark past, Hardy doesn’t let you into his world in comparison to his brother Brendan who we know enough about. Keeping his shoulders and head down, wearing hoodies and rarely uttering a word, Tommy is a ghost who exits a room or a ring as quick as he entered. In every movement, every gaze that Hardy gives with his cold eyes and bulky physique, we want to know more but feel we would be too intimidated to ask.

On the other side of the fatherless life is Joel Edgerton’s Brendan, a former makeshift UFC fighter turned high school physics professor. With a wife and two daughters at home, he faces foreclosure on his Philly suburb home if he can’t account for the lost money in 90 days. So secretly, he turns back to his former fight routes, fighting in parking-lot mock-up matches making decent pay, unbeknownst to his wife. When he is suspended without pay from his teaching job after word leaks of his parking-lot brawls, he is forced to return to the ring full time, eventually enlisting in the same Sparta tournament as his brother, but he doesn’t know this. Edgerton plays Brendon lacking a sense of care in his past other than what he is good at. Fighting is his gateway for his family’s happiness and ability to live, and compared to his brother Tommy, it is his only means to survive rather than his drug out of his past.

Never having the urge to say, “Hey, what has Nick Nolte been up to,” I now know it was translating his role as Paddy Conlon into one of the saddest father figures in recent cinema history. Nolte, a man who himself seems ravaged by the effects of alcohol, pours it on as a former Marine turned recovering alcoholic suffering through his missteps in life, including the abandonment of his two sons.

Foreign actors Tom Hardy (left) and Joel Edgerton (right) light it up as two brothers duking it out at an MMA tournament in Atlantic City, N.J.

Paddy knows what he has done, and he doesn’t make heavy attempts to make amends other than to let his kids know he is sorry. The reactions from both sides of the coin are equally rough, but it’s Tommy’s reluctance to accept that his father means well in his old age that makes Nolte’s performance the more heartbreaking as he breaks himself from what he has tried so hard to recover from. I’m not one to make early Oscar predictions, but Nolte’s performance certainly would have a Best Supporting Actor nomination in my book.

Director Gavin O’Connor is no stranger to creating atmospheric and emotionally charged sports film having helmed the underrated 2004 hockey film Miracle, and with a grittier setting and a sport more adept for its physicality to the audience, he has found a perfect tone in Mixed Martial Arts. The fast-paced, breathless match sequences are well choreographed and shot at frantic lengths allowing the audience to be in the middle of the action and feel every kick, punch, and body slam to boot. If it wasn’t for the narrative, this could’ve easily been a live pay-per-view, but the emotions laced throughout the struggle between brothers Tommy and Brendan drop the film down into reality. Having never had a brother myself, the last 20 minutes really hit you hard with how its shot and executed by both Hardy and Edgerton.

Warrior is not a cinderella story, but it’s about fathers and sons, brothers, kinship, and heroics. For a new generation, this could be a Rocky like story for the UFC crowd, regardless of its generic storytelling. In the end, it’s the struggle of modern American family seen in the hard-nosed Conlon clan and with some tremendous fight sequences, Warrior tells a more truthful and real hardship than most sports films tend to do today.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)