Warrior (2011) Review (PG-13)

 

Warrior is the first big mainstream attempt to make a modern day ‘Rocky’ using the backdrop of Mixed Martial Arts. Or at least that’s what anyone watching this will compare this to. There’s no real comparison, though. Different eras. Different sports (even if I have a hard time calling an event where you can ‘choke someone out’ or attempt to break someone’ bones or punch someone when they’re already knocked out on the mat… But I digress).

 

And really, Rocky was lightning in a bottle. It was high art that was accessible to everyone. It was a sociological character study. It was the epitome of the underdog story… And like Stallone’s other scripts it was taken from someone’s life story without proper authorization. Again. I digress. getting back to ‘Warrior’…

So after doing my best to alienate MMA fans, let me say that this is a solid film. It ‘s very well acted. All o the principle players do good work here. I rarely call for award recognition, but I would hope Nick Nolte gets some recognition here. He has a very difficult part to play here. His past battles with drugs and alcohol probably helped him with the role. The fight choreography isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, but it works for the movie (and it’s one of the few categories where it would trump Rocky).

The story is that of a severely dysfunctional family, specifically about two brothers, Brendan and Tommy Conlon, and their father Paddy who was obsessed with them becoming top athletes in wrestling (and the fight game). At some point, Paddy’s alcoholism and obsession with athletics forces the wife to flee to parts unknown with her youngest son Tommy. The eldest son stays because he won’t leave his girlfriend (and future wife) behind. Tommy becomes withdrawn and becomes filled with anger for Paddy and Brendan when his mother dies of cancer. He never contacts them and they find out after her passing much later (curiously he blames his brother for not being there even though he was unaware of his mother’s whereabouts and condition).

And that’s all before the movie starts. When the movie begins, both sons, have fallen on hard times while Paddy has cleaned himself up being clean and sobre for nearly 1,000 days now. Neither brother speaks to their father or to one another. Paddy (Nick Nolte) comes home one night to find one of his estranged sons (Tommy) sitting on the steps of his home. Tommy (played by Tom Hardy) is still angry and has come home to vent some of his frustrations to his father. Unbeknownst to Paddy, Tommy, now an ex-MArine, is conflicted with regrets of his own. I think at this point Tommy already has intentions in mind. After arguing with his father he leaves, but I don’t think his showing up is just a random event.

Meanwhile, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) has become a physics teacher, but takes to taking fights at ‘tough man’ style contests at strip clubs to try to make extra money. He has a wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison),  and two kids and they are in danger of losing their house. This complicates matters when he gets gets suspended from his teaching duties when its found out what his moonlighting activities are. There is a benefit to being suspended, though. It gives him time to train to take fights. After a series of serendipitous events he finds himself in a major MMA event called the Sparta.

After Tommy becomes a youtube sensation (a la Kimbo Slice) he asks his father to train him for an upcoming MMA event with a five million dollar purse going to the winner. Tommy’s condition is that they only speak about training and nothing else. Paddy agrees, but soon begins to feel the strains of  his past obsessions, contact with his sons and his sobriety.

The film is very well acted. Hardy is really good here in what seems to be becoming old hat for him if you account for his roles like in Bronson or the upcoming Dark Knight Rises (Bane!). At times, it’s easy to like his character. You pity him at times. Then, he plays the villain role to an extent, and acts as a lot of people do, with a level of irrationality. Edgerton is good, also, but he has more of the purely nice guy underdog role. His character only does what he has to do for his family and does not have nearly the amount of inner turmoil that the brother has. But, the real standout of the film is Nick Nolte. This is probably the best role I’ve seen him play in quite some time. I don’t think I remember him playing a character quite like this one. The only time that the trademark Nolte ‘angry actor’ moments manifest themselves are when… Well, I should let you watch it, I guess. I also thought the usage of the Moby Dick backgound detail in his part of the story was used rather cleverly.  I didn’t catch the significance of it until the scene where it became obvious. it’s subtle.

The biggest problem I had with the film is the contrivances and conveniences that occur to have both brothers getting back into fighting at the same time, both in dire straits and entering the same contest. I think, though, the film might have been better served to focus on one son. There’s quite a bit that you have to swallow the closer you get to the end. In fact, at one point, I figured one would break a wrist or a leg and have to fight on with the injury. And… Well, see for yourself. The way they balanced the two sons’ back stories was impressive that it never became too hokey or unbelievable. I did like how they resolved the story of the two brothers in the ring. I’m not giving anything away by saying that. It’s in the trailers and even if it wasn’t, you know it’s inevitable and necessary to conclude the story.

I liked ‘Warrior’ quite a bit. It’s more of a character study, a drama, rather than an action film. It juggles quite a few subplots in reaching the finale. I might have liked it even more with a little more editing, but it’s still quite good as is. Few films make use of the split screen or multi screen shots anymore, but this one did so very effectively. I wish they had done more of that, since the story of two brothers taking different routes to make it to their showdown was made for that particular storytelling technique. Anyway, great movie.

4 of 5

 

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