' ' Cinema Romantico: Warrior

Monday, January 16, 2012


Set in the uncompromising world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), writer/director Gavin O'Connor's "Warrior" is pitched somewhere between "Rocky" and "The Wrestler", though for me it conjured up memories of 1975's "The Great Waldo Pepper", a film starring the young Robert Redford as a barnstorming pilot who at the end finds himself filming a flying stunt sequence with a German WWI ace that, improbably, gloriously, turns real, two men giving themselves up entirely one final time. "Warrior" skillfully builds to a conclusion that's very much in the same vein and that on paper would sound utterly ridiculous, which is to say imagine if Redford and the German ace had been.........brothers.

Older Brother is Brendan (Joel Edgerton), an ex MMA fighter who has since settled down into the straight life with a wife (Jennifer Morrison) and two daughters and a job as a high school physics teacher. But his bliss is tested when foreclosure on his home is threatened, re-sending him into the most outer limits of MMA to make a few quick bucks which leads to attaining a black eye which leads to him getting suspended (understandably) from his job which leads to him seeking out his old trainer to get back in the ring.

Younger Brother is Tommy (Tom Hardy), a former MMA prodigy who joined the marines and turned heroic before, in turn, going AWOL for reasons this review will not reveal. He turns back up on the doorstep of his father (Nick Nolte), formerly a broken down, vicious alchohlic but now more put together and 1,000 days sober, not saying much of anything beyond expressing his desire for his dad to aid him in getting ready to enter "the Super Bowl" of MMA tournaments, "subtly" named Sparta, set on the shores of Atlantic City where, of course, famously "everything dies, baby, that's a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back." Which is to say that, yes, "Warrior" also unmistakably evokes the essence of a Springsteen song. ("Atlantic City" crossed with "The Hitter.")

Springsteen tells familiar stories but makes them matter. "Warrior" tells a familiar story but makes it matter, more than I would have suspected possible. If you think for even a moment that despite the presence of "the mighty, mythical Russian" (the movie's words, not mine) and a single, fast-moving montage that summarizes all the training our main characters need to face the best MMA fighters in the world that the two brothers won't meet for the championship of Sparta then you obviously haven't seen "Best of the Best." So what is then that makes "Warrior" matter? Above all, it's the unmistakable urgency of the performances. Despite being Australian and English, respectively, Edgerton and Hardy genuinely convey two men whose rough upbringing colored them as the mistrustful men they are today. Forgiveness of their father for his insinuated flurry of sins might be stated once or twice but is not really implied, never more so than in a MAGNIFICENT sequence set around a slot machine where Hardy's lips literally seem to be dripping with bitter menace. Nolte, meanwhile, who late in his career has often seemed disinteresed in so much as making his line-readings even halfway intelligible against all odds somehow becomes even more hoarse, heartbroken that his sons won't show him mercy but understanding that nothing he does now can offset what he didn't do in their youth. And that might be the film's final assets, the portrait of this significantly strained relationship between sons and father and the unconventional refusal to have it all neatly resolved.

Of course, by making them brothers you're not just enhancing drama, you're also sacrificing suspense, and much of the Sparta Tournament is going-through-the-motions because it's all so terribly foregone. Yet, to its credit, once it gets to that inevitable tete-a-tete it isn't cheap because a rather skillful job was done in getting us to care for both parties. (Although in my opinion the war hero bit with Tommy pours it on too thick when considering how gritty and realistic the rest of the movie is and yearns to be.) The ending works. Damn it all to hell, it really works. Two people related by blood who are nonetheless distant and unknown to one another enter a ring to engage in some mixed marital arts and exit the ring as......well, you know.


Anonymous said...

Great review. The cliches are there but Edgerton, Hardy, and Nolte rise this above being just than just Rocky with MMA. It’s a well-made and emotionally gripping story that brings out some real gut-wrenching moments as well as the great knock-outs.

Castor said...

Solid movie indeed. I thought it was too formulaic for its own good and way too predictable but that comes with the genre. It does manage to work despite these limitations so it's obviously doing a lot of things right. The performances were great, I did think Tom Hardy was a bit too over-the-top, it almost sounded like he was mentally challenged...

Nick Prigge said...

These movies are so tricky because it's virtually impossible to get around that formula and predictability, especially when you set them up as brothers. But I really did think it did such a good job of making everything else matter that it overcame those built-in problems.

Andrew K. said...

It wasn't even the formulaic story which bothered me (and truth be told, I liked Warrior) it was shot so terribly. I swear, some of the worst lighting and photography of the year which does not help a screenplay that needs to appear better than it is. The performers try, but only Edgerton completely succeeds. I mean, god damn, he's fantastic.