Warrior

9 Oct

Title: Warrior
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Gavin O’Connor
Writers: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman, based on a story by Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Dorfman
Starring: 
Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material
Runtime: 
139 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
84%

 

There are some days when I like to watch more than one movie, some days that ends up being a crappy decision, like yesterday when I watched A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (which I gave a D+ to) and Seven Days in Utopia (which I graded a C-), but then there are some days when you watch two films and both of them are amazing and all you want is to watch a third one to follow the streak of great films. Today was one of those days. I saw Contagion earlier in the day, a truly terrific film from Steven Soderbergh and then when deciding what to follow it up with for the night slot I settled for Warrior, the new film from Gavin O’Connor, the director of Miracle. And I was just expecting a good time with Warrior, guessing I would get our typical sports movie full of clichés but more than willing to give it a shot because of Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton in the lead role, even if I wasn’t really expecting all that much from it. And boy was I in for a surprise, because, yes, Warrior does have all those typical clichés but it also has an incredible amount of heart that doesn’t make them feel all that corny, and the fight sequences were just awesomely executed, and, most of all, it had some first-rate performances that really elevated it to great heights.

It’s really something that a movie as corny and clichéd as this one can also be as sincerely exceptional as it was. Seriously, look at the plot: two estranged brothers, one who was a Marine over in Iraq who comes home for reasons not immediately apparent and the other an apparently regular physics professor, as kids they both had to deal with an alcoholic father and as grown-ups they enjoy practicing non-pro mixed martial arts, and, oh coincidence, they both get to be finalists in this huge championship and, well, you probably know how it’s all gonna go. But I mean, it’s just so incredibly well done that it totally transcends all of that inherent corniness it had in it and finds its footing quickly enough and becomes this tremendously gripping film about family relationships. And it’s really all because of the job that Mr. Hardy and Mr. Edgerton do as the brothers, Brendan and Tom, and because of the performance Nick Nolte, in a career-reviving kind of role (not unlike the one Mickey Rourke gave in another fighting film, The Wrestler), gives as the now-sober father, Paddy.

Warrior is unapologetically clichéd though, it wears the conventionalities of its genre proudly on its sleeve, because it’s like it knows that it has the material to use them to its advantage, whether it’s having this trio of alpha male actors portraying the story of a pair of brothers working out their issues with the recovering alcoholic dad or whether it’s just having a film that looks fantastic, shot on-location in Pittsburgh that gives it this terrific naturalistically gritty aesthetic aided by some pretty neat editing, this move just worked on so many levels. So yeah, it’s all about that for this film, embracing it’s standard genre conventions but employing them in a film that’s skillfully made and convincingly acted, that’s what sets this one apart so much, and it’s what makes this one achieve a great deal of well-earned compassion once it reaches its predictably schmaltzy climax.

This is the man-weepfest the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite some time. You have Mr. Hardy playing Tom, who’s now taken on whiskey and arrives at the doorstep of his father’s home, whom he hasn’t seen in fourteen years. If you’ve been watching him then you know Mr. Hardy is an amazing actor, and he’s now finally becoming a star, after rising to prominence in Nicolas Winding Refn’s spectacular Bronson, he got his big break last year in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (which I ranked as the 3rd best film of 2010), with whom he’ll reunite in next year’s hugely anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, Mr. Nolan’s final entry in his Batman trilogy, and this year he has this film and the upcoming Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which looks great. But yeah, the point I’m trying to make is the guy’s very good, and he’s certainly amazing here, he uses his towering physique (and those who have seen Bronson know how well he can do this) to just embody all this kinds of rage and bitterness towards life, towards his father. Not to mention that it makes him kicking so much ass really believable.

Then there’s Mr. Edgerton as Brendan, and he’s another guy who’s just bound to follow Mr. Hardy’s footsteps and get a huge breakout sooner rather than later, he first came to my attention last year in the stunning Animal Kingdom (which I gave an A to and ranked as the 19th best film of 2010) and is headlining the upcoming prequel to The Thing and taking on the role of Tom Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, so yeah, he’ll be big in no time. But anyways, he plays the more functional kind of brother, a teacher and former UFC contender, but he’s still been deeply scarred by his father. His wife, played by Jennifer Morrison, tells him he can’t fight any more, so he tells her he’ll work as a bouncer on some nights to bring in some needed extra cash, but of course he’s fighting, because that’s what pays better.

These two actors are amazing, though it is ironic that these sort of hugely American roles of scarred male egos are played by a Brit and an Aussie. Mr. Hardy is especially riveting, he plays this small boy who has had his life marked by his father but is now trapped in the body of a huge grown man, his is a performance that has to do a lot with physicality and looks and not so much with dialogue, what he does inside the ring does just as much as the few lines of dialogue he also rocks at delivering. And Nick Nolte as the father is stunningly good, whatever Oscar buzz he’s been garnering is well deserved, just a perfectly cast role, Mr. Nolte’s gravelly voice adding a lot to the character, a man who’s truly broken, feeling guilt in every inch of his body and not being able to turn to his alcoholic drink of choice to find solace.

Warrior is a long film, but it makes the most of its running time, really, you have the clichés in the story lines and in the split-screen training scenes but it’s so well-acted that none of it matters. And once the movie enters its second act a lot of it takes place in the tournament and Mr. O’Connor shows us the violence of mixed martial arts in all of its bloody splendor, presented in a vicious way that makes these fights really exciting to watch. And what’s best is that the violence never feels gratuitous, it’s like an extension of what these two brothers are feeling, these fighting scenes are the ones that show the most soul in this film, you really get Tom’s lust for some sort of vengeance and spiritual redemption, you really get Brendan’s desperation for giving his family economic stability, and you get that the ring is the only place where they can really communicate with each other. This was a surprising film to me, it had soul, emotions and a trio of powerhouse performances that will leave you a wreck.

Grade: A-

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