Plot: Two brothers who haven’t spoken in years enter an intense Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament called ‘Sparta.’ One is a physics teacher (Joel Edgerton) who hasn’t fought professionally in years. The other is a former marine (Tom Hardy) who is trained by his recovering alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) whom both brothers still hold a grudge with.
In many ways, Warrior is your typical cliché sports movie, but the emotions and conflicts in this film are so intense, it transcends the generic sports story. Yes, it has the underdog story. Yes, it has the ‘he’s going up against an insurmountable opponent’ plot line, but it’s not about that. It’s about these two brothers, and how shattered their relationship is between themselves, but more importantly, with their father, played brilliantly by Nick Nolte.
The acting is off the charts. Nick Nolte plays Paddy Conlon, a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober for almost 1,000 days. He wants nothing more then to be close with his sons again, but both hate him beyond belief for his past actions. Yes, it’s a storyline we’ve seen a hundred times, but there are some truly heartbreaking moments Nolte delivers. One scene that really got to me is when Paddy visits the elder son, Brendan, and Brendan doesn’t even let him come in the house to see his two granddaughters. The end of this scene is soul crushing, and Nolte nails it. But his best scene, and what I believe is an Oscar moment, takes place in an Atlantic City hotel room after his younger son Tommy was particularly vicious towards him a few moments earlier. I’m telling you, this scene really knocks you on your ass. It’s Christian Bale The Fighter level acting.
As good as Nolte was though, the two leads (Joel Edgeton and Tom Hardy) are right there with him. Edgerton’s performance makes it real easy to root for him. He’s the guy you really follow in this movie, and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role. They also give his character the best secondary relationships. The bond between him and his wife (Jennifer Morrison) is effective, as well as the banter and friendship between Brendan and his manager (Frank Grillo).
But the man who steals the show is Tom Hardy. The character he plays is like an angry Rocky Balboa. He dresses like Rocky, approaches fights similar to Rocky, but he’s certainly not going to tell a joke like Rocky. He is a bitter, bitter human being, and Hardy’s performance is fascinating. It’s in the fighting scenes though where he really shines: Hardy is ferocious. I was already excited for his Bane performance in The Dark Knight Rises next summer, but now I’m foaming at the mouth.
The director for this is Gavin O’Connor, who also did Miracle. He should just direct every sports movie. He builds up the tension so well. The two brothers don’t even have a scene together until much later in the film, and you are on pins and needles waiting for that moment. When they finally meet up at night on the beach, he withholds their first dialogue exchange just a little bit longer as they slowly walk towards each other. They probably could have used one more scene together though, which would have made the ending even that much stronger. And yeah, I’m not spoiling anything here because it’s in the trailers, but they eventually fight in this tournament. And what’s so interesting is that not only is the fight intense, but they battle their issues with each other within the fight, and it’s really brilliant with how they do it. They also build up these little mini conflicts between some of the other fighters which are also effective.
The directing isn’t perfect though. I hated the panel style editing during the training montage. Didn’t we learn our lesson from this with Ang Lee’s Hulk? There’s also too many comedic moments in some of the more serious scenes. There’s this whole section devoted to Brendan’s school, and how the Principal (Kevin Dunn) is a closet MAA fan. He’s watching Brendan fight at home, and they do all these annoying cut backs to him cheering. It’s just too much. The movie is also paced way too slowly. For the most part, it’s beneficial to the film, but it doesn’t need to be this long.
I can completely forgive the director for these mistakes with how great everything else is. Coming from someone who’s not a fan of MMA at all, I thought the fights scenes were filmed exceptionally well.
Trust me: you don’t have to be an MMA fan to appreciate this movie. Like I said, it’s not about that. It’s about these three characters and exploring how broken their relationships are, and the horrors of their past, especially with what you learn about Hardy’s character. This film is an emotional roller coaster, especially at the end…maybe even a little too over the top. This is easily one of the best movies of the year. The music is great. The performances are great. The directing is great. It’s great.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)