The underdog story has been told a thousand times by way of film and most of the entries to the sports genre can be forgotten. The problem that most of these films face is they never manage to find something that makes their film any better than the last. It’s alright to reuse typical clichés as long as you still bring something fresh to the table or add your own unique take. Last year The Fighter surprised most as a film that had a beating heart with flawed, but realistic characters. The story wasn’t anything we haven’t seen, but the director and all the talented actors and actresses managed to make a really good film. Warrior honestly looked like a film that was trying to take advantage of the success that The Fighter brought in by recreating the story but using the popular mixed martial arts as the medium. I was ready to pass this film off as a lazy cash grab but then I sat down and watched it and was pleasantly surprised by how emotional the film really was. Its story isn’t innovative, but the way it gets from point A to B is. All three main performances are some of the best of their careers and director Gavin O’Connor balances everything in the film perfectly, from the pacing to the actual in ring fights. Warrior is the result of hard work and determination. It shows that you can take a story that’s been done before and make it still feel fresh and relevant.
Tommy (Tom Hardy) is a troubled individual. He grew up in a house with an alcoholic father who didn’t treat him or his mother with any respect or care. At a young age he decides to leave his father and brother with his mother and start a new life. His mother dies and he enlists in the Marines. Certain things happen overseas which causes him to go AWOL and return to his home with nothing to show for himself but a set of emotional problems. He decides to do the only thing he knows how to do and that is to fight. He starts training at a local gym and gives his father a chance of redemption by helping him train. Tommy wants nothing to do with his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte) on any sort of personal level. He simply wants his father to train him because that seems to be the only thing he was ever good at.
Paddy is a recovering alcoholic that has found hope in life. Hope that maybe leads to his two sons forgiving him for his past sins and hope that could lead to a brighter future.
Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is the other son, the one that looks like his life is in order. He’s a married school teacher with children just trying to live a normal daily life, but like most people in this day and age he is faced with a stack of house bills that his salary isn’t going to cover. He, like his brother Tommy is a fighter. He used to brawl for the UFC and now he takes side fights in the parking lot of the local strip club. A suspension from the school he works at points him in only one direction, the ring. He’s all out of options and the only solution seems to be to climb back through the ropes and become a better fighter than he ever was before.
The story of Warrior sounds all over the place when read, but it actually flows very nicely in the film. Every character is flawed and faced with choices. Each character reacts to these given choices differently, but all for a good cause. There isn’t one true character that is good and one that is bad and that’s something that really works well in Warrior. Tommy only wanted what he thought was best for everybody, but at the same time he has troubles forgiving anyone and constantly blames himself for everything bad around him. He’s not a bad person at all, but he certainly isn’t flawless.
Paddy obviously isn’t a flawless gem either when his past is brought into the equation. He’s trying hard to overcome these obstacles, but his character is clearly still struggling, which was portrayed brilliantly by Nick Nolte. Nolte is electric as Paddy. He’s always facing a constant struggle with himself and it’s just tear inducing watching Nolte, who is usually so tough and brave, play such an honest and vulnerable person. Every bit of extensive dialogue with Nolte in it instantly becomes his. He steals the show every time and I could honestly see him getting a best supporting actor nod.
Brendan’s the middle aged man who misses the glory days. He’s determined and wants to become better than he ever was before as a fighter at any cost. He’s that family man with an agenda that won’t take no for an answer and Joel Edgerton is the perfect man for the role. He certainty looks like a tough guy with a past, but whenever he’s on screen with his kids or teaching at school, he really brings out that honest side of Brendan. Edgerton adds a lot of dimension to a character that can otherwise become so robust. He’s not just some guy who’s down on his luck and needs to better his life, he’s a dad, a husband, a caring contributor to the community who desperately and honorably needs to get his life back in order and he won’t take no for an answer.
Jumping back to Tommy, played powerfully by Tom Hardy. Tommy is probably the most interesting character of the film because he keeps his emotions buried deep inside. You never know exactly what he’s thinking or what he’s going to do next and Hardy displays that curious intensity very well. The first half of the film Tommy is much more bitter and untrusting and by the end he’s a loose cannon ready to go off at any moment. Hardy is very intimidating and even scary as Tommy. Those questioning Christopher Nolan for choosing Hardy as Bane will fear no more after watching Hardy in Warrior. He’s an animal that is finally unlocked from his cage!
I really got to give it to director Gavin O’Connor for piecing everything together so well. The pacing of the film starts off kind of slow, but each story reveal feels big and important. Whoever cut the trailer thought it was best to let out every single turn in the film, but it still felt shocking when viewed. The trailer shows you who makes it to the final battle, but your still on the edge of your seat during Tommy and Brendan’s grueling bouts. The fighting is very violent and bone crunching and it was filmed with the perfect movement. The camera always keeps its distance, but still finds the right shots to get up close and personal. You feel every punch connect and every thump of the mats as a poor soul gets his ass body slammed.
Warrior could have become just another mainstream sports story, chalked full of action and cookie cutter characters, but it’s not. Everyone in the film has depth and a purpose. Each character gets proper introduction and a proper send off. Even someone as small as Kurt Angle managed to fit in and feel needed. While the main focus is on the two brothers and their father, every side character plays into the emotions of the film in some way, whether it be the wife who doesn’t want to see her husband in the hospital or a soldier who was saved by a fearless Marine.
Warrior is a film that looks and sounds cliché and predictable, but because of its clear intentions and honest story it elevates itself to new levels. It’s a sports drama that has traits and similarities to other past films like Rocky, while still tying in today with some of the problems it tackles like financial issues, the effects of war and so on. It takes on all of these problematic characters and all of these situations they need to overcome and it finds that balance so perfectly. Not one minute of the film is wasted on something that doesn’t help the overall film. Everything has a heart and everything has a very important purpose and it all comes together in an ending that is honestly picture perfect.
The ending was something they could have easily messed up, but luckily they didn’t. They hit it out of the park and ended on a very high note. Each second builds on the next and the tension is very thick and it never really comes down from that. It ends at the exact moment it needed to and the rest is history.
Warrior is a film that goes against all the odds. It’s full of very real characters that can be described as good or bad. It has a story that can be called cliché and unoriginal on paper, but then it surprises everyone in the way it fleshes everything out and truly becomes its own film. The film is always building and building and keeping the viewer engaged until the very last second. It has three performances that are sure to get some sort of Oscar buzz and each one of them deserves it. Hardy is a force to be reckoned with, Edgerton is surprisingly effective and Nolte steals the show. Forget what you saw in the trailer and stop watching TV spots on the film and just go into Warrior with an open mind. I guarantee it will surprise you! It’s one hell of a knockout and one of the better films I’ve seen this year.
Warrior – 9.5/10