If you haven’t noticed via past reviews, I cannot stand most sports movies. They all contain the same generic formula. A team or player is an underdog, typically due to a character flaw. Once the team or character begins to fix the problem, they finally starts to progress and get good. There’s always an important end game. No matter the outcome, winning or losing, the character or team is fine because that flaw has been corrected. Happy day.
Luckily, such is not the case with Warrior. Yes, the characters have flaws and a final fight to get to, but instead of featuring cliched cookie-cutter characters with not-so-big problems, Warrior is grounded in a genuine reality. Their problems are real and relevant. They each have noble reasons for fighting. And, most importantly, you emotionally care for them.
Know that a large chunk of the emotional content in Warrior is shrouded in secrecy and slowly unveiled as the film progresses. For that reason, my run-down of the story will keep it vague. No spoilers here.
Tom Hardy (Inception) and Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) play two estranged brothers. Tommy (Hardy) disappeared many years ago when he and his mother decided to escape the abusive home life caused by his mean drunk father (Nick Nolte). Since then, Brendan (Edgerton) too has locked his father out of his life and has a family of his own – but the tough times are starting to affect him and his family. Between him and his wife, they work three jobs and are still sinking.
Both being strong wrestlers in high school, when a large mixed martial arts (MMA) tournament is announced, the two brothers who haven’t seen one another in over a decade find themselves entering against one another. Brendan hopes to win the $5 million prize to better his family. While Tommy’s reason for fighting isn’t revealed for some time, know that it is also noble.
While there is plenty of MMA fighting to quench the thirst of any fan, the intensity that sets Warrior apart from other sports-based movies comes from the relationships of its characters. Tommy and Brendan couldn’t be more opposite – Tommy is blunt tool, using his strength to quickly eliminate his opponents and Brendan is a machine of endurance highly trained in the technique of the sport – yet they both have good intentions. Confrontation is eminent.
Being a character-driven drama, if the actors didn’t give strong performances, Warrior simply would not work. It would be hollow. But Hardy, Edgerton and Nolte show off their skills here. If you haven’t become familiar with Hardy yet, you need to. Next summer he will be talking on the Caped Crusader as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. If you missed Edgerton in Animal Kingdom, do yourself a favor and check it out now. And Nolte, well, he sure didn’t impress with his gorilla role in Zookeeper, but his performance in Warrior reminds you why he has been around for so long.
In the midst of a theatrical dry spell, Warrior comes as a breath of fresh air. Fan of MMA or not, it will win you over.
Photo credit: Lionsgate