Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Directed by Gavin O’Connor.
2011. Rated PG-13, 140 minutes.
Nick Nolte
Tom Hardy
Joel Edgerton
Frank Grillo
Maximiliano Hernández
Kevin Dunn
Jennifer Morrison
Denzel Whitaker
Kurt Angle
Erik Apple

What happens when your demons catch up to you? Our three main characters in Warrior have to find out the answer to that very question. There’s Paddy AKA Pop (Nolte), and his two sons, Brendan (Edgerton) and Tommy (Hardy). The three have been estranged for quite some time. Pop is a drunk who abused the boys’ mother. He’s been sober for close to 1000 days. When he comes home one night he discovers Tommy waiting on his doorstep. We quickly learn that a few years ago Tommy took mom and fled in hopes of getting her as far away from Pop as possible. He seethes hatred for his old man, yet here he is. Brendan lives not too far from his father but refuses to see him, mostly for the same reason as his brother. However, there is even more to that dynamic. The two brothers aren’t speaking, either. Both are trained fighters, but not working as professionals. Still, they both decide now is the time to get back in the game and start seriously training for a very high profile mixed martial arts tournament where the winner takes home $5 million. They do so separately and without knowledge of what the other is doing, of course. Interestingly enough, Tommy asks Pop to work with him.

The three men share something I hesitate to call a bond. That would imply that what they have is a positive thing. Rest assured, it is not. It’s much more akin to shackles that keep them connected no matter how much they desire to be otherwise. Indeed, they are each other’s demons. It seems they’ve been haunting one another all of their lives. Despite all the anger between them, we empathize with each of them. We understand the actions of the two sons. Things are a little trickier with regards to Pop. However, we feel sorry for him. He desperately wants to make amends but knows his mistakes are unforgivable.

Besides watching the guys rage against each other, the reason the two brothers want and need the prize money is also explored. This adds to the drama and helps to flesh out the characters. The writing and the actors themselves aid in this also. Nolte and Hardy are particularly good. It’s one of Nolte’s best in years. He really conveys a man constantly grieving his own errors, desperate to reconcile with his offspring and feeling completely dejected. It’s heart wrenching stuff. Whenever Hardy’s on screen, Tommy’s anger consumes both him and us. We feel the chill of his coldness. However, knowing what’s gone on in his life, we totally understand. By the way, as Brendan, Joel Edgerton holds up well also. Unfortunately for him, his performance is bookended by two outstanding portrayals.

Don’t go getting the wrong idea. There is lots of MMA action. It’s oddly handled, though. It’s brutal, but only up to a point. Fists, elbows, feet and knees hit as bone-crunching noises threaten to blow out your speakers. Bodyslams certainly live up to their name. However, it’s all strangely sanitized to fit into the movie’s PG-13 packaging. In short, it’s a bloodless affair. Anyone who’s seen the sport in real life knows this isn’t the case. Often, someone is being pummeled but where they’re being hit is barely out of sight. When you see this realize it’s the camera doing what camera’s aren’t supposed to do: flincing.

The fighting in Warrior is not here to satisfy my bloodlust, though. It’s here to provide a triumphant achievement for one of the brothers. For this reason, it’s been called just another Rocky clone. I disagree. There is that element to Warrior, but it’s much more. It’s about the painful relationships the three men share. This comes through even in its most Rocky-esque moments. Though one son assumes the Balboa role, the other is no Apollo Creed. He’s much more reluctant hero than villain. However, we do get an Ivan Drago in the form of unbeatable Russian champion Koba (Angle). In reality, he’s merely an interesting sidebar. Finding a way to defeat him is not the point of the nearly two hours we spend with this dysfunctional family. The point is to see how much the thrill of victory can be tainted by the agony of defeat.

MY SCORE: 8.5/10

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