Director Gavin O’Connor has directed two of my most favorite movies of all time. The 1999 movie Tumbleweeds was a sweet mother/daughter road trip movie, while 2004’s Miracle holds a place as the best sports movie ever made in my humble opinion. His newest film, Warrior, continues in the grand tradition of strong sports movies with heart and depth. Comparing it to last year’s The Fighter is simple, but O’Connor and crew give Warrior such complexity and fantastic themes to build off of.
Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are estranged brothers trying to cope with the abuse and neglect bestowed on them by their father Paddy (Nick Nolte). Both men grew up in the world of wrestling and MMA and discover a tournament where the winner walks away with a five million dollar purse. Tommy and Brendan have their own reasons for wanting to win, but when they’re required to fight each other they’ll be forced to confront the issues that have kept them apart.
Warrior boils down to a father/son drama that revolves around the world of MMA. It’d be pretty simple to have this all build up to some type of underdog story but the film goes much deeper. The tension created from the dysfunctional family is only given in bits and pieces leaving the audience to imagine the sheer hell Tommy and Brendan suffered through at the hands of a man who claims he’s reformed. The two men are definitely fighting demons of varying types but you want them to succeed. There’s no clear-cut “winner” out of the duo, they both have compelling and honest reasons for wanting to win like Brendan trying to save his house and Tommy trying to take care of a fallen soldier’s family.
You never learn the exact details of the brother’s problems with their father, it’s mainly told through brief dialogue scenes, but you gain enough to understand their hatred. Even though Paddy is 1000 days sober it can never make up for Tommy watching his mother die or Brendan losing contact with his brother. The film’s main themes involve forgiveness and trying to reconnect with those you love no matter how much push and pull there is. There’s so much bubbling under the surface that can never be talked that when the two brother’s fight at the film’s conclusion, you understand it’s not just the money that’s motivating them.
That leads me to the fight scenes which are nothing short of brutal. I don’t watch MMA fighting but I know that it kicks boxing and wrestling’s ass. The fight scenes are shown in excruciating detail with the camera right next to the fighters on the ground. O’Connor never moves the camera too rapidly or away from what the audience wants to see and you get to witness the pain and struggle on everyone’s face. Brendan’s fight with a large Russian fighter will make you wince and the final showdown between Brendan and Tommy is a bare-knuckle brawl of cinematic proportions. When the two men look into each other’s eyes you realize at least 20 some odd years of resentment has led to this moment and this fight, that things would never end any other way. When a fight scene can make you think that you know it’s a wild ride!
As if the movie can’t bring you enough the three males are incredibly dynamic and superb. Hardy and Edgerton have wonderful chemistry and I wish there were more scenes between them (although the one scene on a beach in New Jersey is amazing). Hardy is an animal in the fight scenes and a dark, brooding presence out of them. This film shows why he’ll rock the role of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises because you are frightened of him. You can see through his eyes that he’s seen some horrific things that can’t be unseen. Edgerton is the loveable family man who’s never too saccharine or perfect; he can still beat the living crap out of someone. The true stand-out is Nick Nolte as Paddy Conlon, the catalyst of the whole film. He gives a tortured performance as a man who’s lost his sons and all that comes with it. Paddy’s given up drinking yet he cannot be forgiven no matter how hard he tries. The performance is one to hope for recognition come award’s time.
The film has a few foibles but not enough to detract from seeing it. The main Russian fighter isn’t nearly as big a part of the film as implied in the beginning, and Edgerton’s high school students are given far too much screen time. Paddy also suffers a relapse by drinking yet it’s brushed aside with no mention. The true head scratching moment comes courtesy of Hardy. While I loved his performance for which he stays mute, the few dialogue scenes show he hasn’t mastered the American accent. It fluctuates all over the board but he stays quiet enough for you to let it go.
Overall, Warrior is a wonderful film that tells a deep-seated story of estrangement and forgiveness. It’s got a strong story and three incredibly phenomenal leading men. Definitely see it when it hits theaters on September 9th!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.