With the recent success of The Fighter it’s apparent that every fall a new sports movie is required, so it goes with director Gavin O’Connor’s new film Warrior. Warrior could have been a stock MMA movie but O’Connor gives his characters life while weaving a tale of family dysfunction and forgiveness that will keep you riveted until the very last minute. It’s too simple to compare Warrior to The Fighter but O’Connor and his cast give you good reasons to.
Estranged brothers Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are forced to fight each other in a winner takes all MMA fight. Tommy has returned from Iraq and has reconnected with his former alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). Brendan, a high school physics teacher with a wife and children, is forced to enter the competition to save his house. The two brothers are not only forced to fight but forced to confront the issues that have kept them apart.
Gavin O’Connor hasn’t disappointed with the sports genre as can be proven with his last sports film, Miracle. Here we move to the brutal world of MMA fighting and the story of two brothers who can only express themselves through beating the crap out of each other. The film could have simply relied on the fighting but it’s the family drama that adds another layer to the sports film. Brendan and Tommy are both men fighting demons, both internal and external, and are men that you want to see succeed in life. The script gives so much depth to the characters and yet the audience only gets a taste of it. Both brothers relive their tortured past with their abusive father. Tommy gets an added layer of torment by watching his mother die and going to war, which makes you yearn to see him win all the more. From the dialogue to the actual fight scenes you come to understand that both Tommy and Brendan will never be healed, no matter what. There’s so much more bubbling below the surface and yet when the two men come together, you understand their not just fighting for money but getting out years of resentment against the other.
The fighting in the film is nothing short of brutal. Brendan’s big fight with a large Russian fighter isn’t the big spectacle it’s made out to be, but every punch is felt and every groan out of the men will make you wince. I’m not an expert or watcher of MMA but I found myself cringing more than once. The final showdown is where everything comes together and it’s nothing short of a bare-knuckle brawl. Let’s just say when bones start crunching, you know it’s been kicked up a notch.
Warrior also boasts three incredibly dynamic leads, one of which is worthy of Oscar nods. Hardy and Edgerton have electric chemistry as the two brothers who can’t seem to forgive each other. Hardy is an animal in the fight scenes and a disturbing, brooding presence out of the ring. It’s apparent this man has seen a lot of frightening things and the gaze out of Hardy’s eyes is unsettling. Edgerton plays the loveable family man but he doesn’t make him a sap. He’s just likeable enough but is also able to beat the living crap out of a guy. The true stand-out though is Nick Nolte as Paddy Conlon. He gives a heart wrenching and tortured performance as a man who’s lost his sons and their respect, as well as the grandchildren he should be cherishing. The man has given up drinking, yet it doesn’t absolve him of his sins. Nolte seems to feel everything so acutely and it comes through in his gestures and eyes. It’s an award-worthy performance.
The film does start off a bit slow which might put off audiences expecting a lot of action. There is action but O’Connor creates a deliberate pace to set up the necessary exposition. Once everyone gets to Atlantic City for the Sparta it’s on, but it takes a bit to get there. The script suffers from a few head-scratching editing issues. Paddy suffers a relapse yet it’s brushed under the rug pretty quickly and never referenced. Also, as much as I loved Hardy’s performance, he hasn’t seemed to have perfected his American accent. He stays pretty mute for the majority of the film but he has a few dialogue heavy moments and his accent seems to fluctuate between his natural British to Boston and even some type of Jamaican dialect.
Overall, Warrior is a wonderful film that tells a deep-seated story of estrangement and forgiveness. It’s got a strong story, three incredibly phenomenal leading men, and fight scenes that will make you cry. Definitely see it when it hits theaters on September 9th!