Midweek Movie Review: Warrior

The underdog fighter movie has a long and surprisingly successful history. Movies like Rocky, The Karate Kid (both versions), Million Dollar Baby and, most recently, The Fighter have impressed audiences and critics alike. They may not be the most original movies plot-wise – hell, they largely follow the same formula – but they consistently deliver the heart-stirring goods. And I’m pleased to report that latest genre entry Warrior is another goodie.

Mixing grim family drama with brutal Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) action, Warrior focuses on a family torn apart, years previously, by a father’s abusive alcoholism. Older brother Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) has become a high school physics teacher, a loving husband and devoted father. He’s cut off ties to his deeply regretful, former drunk of a father, Paddy (Nick Nolte). The same can be said for younger brother Tommy (Tom Hardy), a former school wrestling champion and marine, who returns home a lone wolf – brooding and driven. All three men are drawn together when Sparta, a massive winner-takes-all MMA tournament, is announced. Brendan is in it to stop foreclosure on his home, Tommy is in it because of a promise, and Paddy is lurking about as a trainer, trying to earn back his sons’ love.

Yes, yes, every cliché in the book is here – including the “gradual improvement” training montage, the monstrous Russian opponent and the wife opposed to her husband entering the ring. This doesn’t detract from the film’s enjoyability and immersiveness however. And a large part of this has to do with Warrior’s stunning acting.

Edgerton is suitably likeable and self-effacing but it’s Nolte and Hardy who really impress. Nolte gives a deeply moving performance as a reformed man who is nonetheless kept at a distance by his sons, and has to endure an endless verbal barrage of vicious truths. Tom Hardy, meanwhile, has undergone a complete transformation to play Tommy – particularly if you compare his work here with his sleek look and smooth performance as actor Eames in Inception. Tommy is a dark horse, physically imposing and terrifyingly efficient in the cage. Given his work here, I can easily accept Hardy as back-breaker Bane in next year’s The Dark Knight Rises.

Speaking of believability, there’s an enjoyable credibility to the MMA scenes in Warrior, both in terms of fighting technique and behind-the-scenes events. Obviously there are a few grudge matches but the film deftly avoids the cliché of raging brutes prone to flexing their massive egos at press conferences, and indulging in dirty play inside the ring. Brendan’s relationship with trainer Frank Campana (Frank Grillo) serves to highlight the “brotherhood” of the sport, and how deep friendships can run, surviving the passage of years. I just wish the film didn’t act like there are only 20 MMA fighters in the world, with the ability for pretty much anyone to walk into the greatest tournament of all time.

If there are any real gripes to be made about Warrior, it’s to do with the film’s ending. The movie is admittedly slow to get going, but once Sparta kicks off, there’s no shortage of crowd-pleasing action and adrenalin to balance out the sobering drama. It’s a pity then that Warrior falls apart a bit during the final fight. Without giving too much away, the actual combat ends two rounds before the match does, leaving the brothers to sort out their issues without their fists… and even then certain burning questions aren’t answered. It’s all rather anti-climactic, with the ending's only real accomplishment being that one brother surges ahead in the likeability stakes.

Still, I would definitely recommend Warrior out of the current batch of cinema releases. If you love fight dramas, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the film, and I predict much the same response if you are a cinemagoer gratified by interesting characters and stunning performances (and you can stomach hard kicks, punches and takedowns). However, if you prize original plots most for your movie entertainment, you might want to look elsewhere.


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