Thursday, 29 September 2011


2011. Dir: Gavin O'Connor. Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison and Frank Grillo. ●●●●○

Friday's double bill was unusual in the strengths of one film were the weaknesses of the other, so yesterday I reviewed a film that was perfectly made but soulless and today I have a film that is arguably a bit of a dog's dinner however is all heart. I've always admitted that my feelings guide me and much as my brain so I have to admit that Warrior is to me the superior movie. It's story is weak, riddled with cliches and the running time could stand to be cut significantly, but I cried a couple of times and cheered (internally) when appropriate so based against it's own aims the film is an astounding success.

Opening on a rundown church in a working class area of Pittsburgh we witness a shambolic old man walking from the basement to his car, doughy and creased it takes a few moments before we recognise him as Nick Nolte. He gets in his car and starts playing an audio cassette of Moby Dick, it's a crutch, a reaction that allows him to cope with life as a recovering alcoholic, but it's also a guide to where this tale is going. What is the great white whale of Nolte's story, is it a relationship with his sons, his alcoholism itself, or a desire to win at all costs.

On his return home we meet son number 1, Tommy (Tom Hardy), beefed up beyond any of his previous turns, appearing hunched under the weight of his trapezius muscles, and bitter at his old man, launching into verbal attacks at his failure as a father, loosely describing his addiction and the abusive affects. Hardy is a ex Marine and former wrestling champ, hiding from his past, angry at the world and looking for any excuse to vent his aggression.

Cut to son number 2, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), family man, physics teacher and all round nice guy, who can't afford his mortgage who - refusing to move back into an apartment (I really don't understand that motivation) - ready to return the ring, engaging in Mixed Martial Arts as a desperate move to bring some money into the house.

If you hadn't already guessed where the plot is going then you've probably never seen a sports movie or even watched the trailer, and I want spoil it here, but a major MMA tournament bursts into the frame and in unlikely and character-suited twists of fate both brothers are recruited into the 16 contenders.

The fights are expertly handled, gripping and pounding, even to a MMA novice like myself I was glued to the screen, twisting and contorting with the action. Each fight had it's own narrative, each round underlining the traits of our two brothers. Whether it's the knock-out rage of Tommy, or the slow steady technical bouts from Brendan, the former's a wildcard, the latter an underdog.

Is success at the tournament the White Whale? And if so who's whale is it? We're flipped between the ambitions and loyalties of these three men, united by family and mutual distrust. Each unable to let go of the past, each using their collected pain to dish out violence.

Of the men Edgerton has the least to work with, his character seems too bland to compete and the stakes don't appear high enough - just deal with a smaller house and stop wasting money on the latest "stuff". Hardy is superb, bristling with energy squinting past his lowered forehead, he has the dangerous impulses of a coiled snake, unafraid to show the darker sides of the character as well a touch of vulnerability in the climatic battle scene. The main praise has to go to Nolte though, here giving something close to career-best work, grizzled and repentent, training Hardy whist choking back the grief from his son's refusal to acknowledge their past we feel for his evident change of heart whilst being revolted by his history.

Masanobu Takayanagi is a cinematographer to watch out for, shooting mainly handheld and with a murky palette we become accustomed to the intimacy of the cage long before the fights start. Can't wait to see what he does with Liam Neeson starrer The Grey.

Gavin O'Conner proves again that he's a fine director of male centric dynasties, here building on his fine work on Miracle and Pride & Glory, but he needs to pass scripting duties over to others. We were constantly reminded of how shit the childhood of the brothers was in the clunkiest dialogue that with some fine tuning and a better understanding of what actually happened growing up and why Hardy is ready to move on might have improved the technical as well as the emotional aspects of the film.

I can recommend Warrior to all film fans, regardless of their thoughts and experiences of MMA, but strongly advise that you take a couple of tissues to help you through the end.


TomS said...

Not just another "Rocky"? A good review, of a film that until now held little interest for me. Tom Hardy is always worth watching, however.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Rocky was a love story that happened to involve a boxer.

This aims far more operatically in it's themes with only a very muddy conflicted love story at the edges of an "I love you Dad" conceit.

It's not as good a film as Rocky, mind.