Warrior – Full Review
The premise of “Warrior”, which is the story of two brothers competing in the same UFC-style Mixed Martial Arts tournament, will probably scare off more discerning film fans who dismiss it as another throwaway kickboxing movie. This is unfortunate, because at the heart of this film is one of the most powerful dramatic stories to hit screens in a while. Joel Edgerton, who won raves for his role in the excellent Australian film “Animal Kingdom“, plays Brendan Conlon, a popular high school teacher forced to enter a brutal fighting tournament after hospital bills from his daughter’s illness devastate the family’s finances. His brother Tommy (Tom Hardy), recently returned from a tour in Iraq, enters the same tournament, while being trained by their father Paddy, played by Nick Nolte in one of his best roles in decades.
The emotional key to the story is the complex relationship between the brothers, whose family was shattered by the abusive behavior of their alcoholic father. Long estranged from Paddy, Brendan refuses to have anything to do with him despite the fact that he has obviously cleaned up his act and is nearly 1000 days sober. Tommy, despite enlisting his father’s help in training for the MMA tournament, refuses to make any kind of emotional connection with him or attempt to resolve their past conflicts. Nolte does a marvelous job in a role that tasks him with conveying a man who has lived a hard life and made tragic mistakes as a human being. In a scene where he breaks down after being verbally destroyed by Tommy, Nolte delivers what may be his finest 90 seconds on screen. It’s truly heartbreaking.
The back story surrounding Edgerton’s role as Brendan is a bit more formulaic, with some standard underdog tropes at work. It fits nicely into the “struggling father trying to pay for his little girl’s doctor bills” tradition that Hollywood loves. In fact, it’s Edgerton himself who rescues the story with a fine performance, making some of the cliches more believable.
I also had a hard time buying the coincidence that, in a tournament featuring the top 16 fighters in the WORLD, that two brothers would both make the cut. But, I guess if you just go with it, the unlikely scenario doesn’t really take anything away from the core story.
Although the film is punctuated by some lengthy fight scenes, I hope this doesn’t deter film fans from giving it a chance. Like many of the greatest “sports” movies of all time, the sport itself is not the most important element of the film – the characters are. Films like “Rocky” and “The Natural”, as well as the recent television series “Friday Night Lights”, appeal to a large audience because they tell a story that audiences can connect with. “Warrior” succeeds for the same reasons, and should garner a decent following based on word-of-mouth buzz. It’s a great film.