Sports movies can be a tricky genre to tackle. Filmmakers do not want to risk alienating a potential audience by delving too deeply into the subtleties of a particular sport. At the same time, authenticity is mandatory, particularly for audience members who are well versed in that particular sport. Warrior is a movie where the main focus is mixed martial arts or MMA, a combative sport that is growing in popularity with every event that the UFC organization holds. Warrior appears to be the first major motion picture to take on the world of mixed martial arts.
Warrior is the story of two brothers leading very different lives. Tommy (played by Tom Hardy) is an Iraq War veteran who suddenly returns to Pittsburgh to the home of his father, Paddy (played by Nick Nolte). Across the state of Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, Brendan (played by Joel Edgerton) is a mild-mannered physics teacher who lives with his wife, Tess (played by Jennifer Morrison), and their two daughters. Paddy’s alcoholism tore the family apart, causing both of his sons to become estranged from him. Both brothers share a talent in the mixed martial arts; with Tommy having been an old school wrestling champion as a teenager (trained by his father) and Brendan using the sport to earn supplemental income for his family. Both brothers find themselves at a mixed martial arts competition called “Sparta,” in which they are forced to confront the issues of their broken family, as well as each other.
I found the fight scenes in Warrior to be both compelling and realistic (I come with a vague knowledge of the sport). Warrior director Gavin O’Connor, who also helped to write the script, manages to keep the story interesting and moving. There is very little wasted effort in this film. Every scene in Warrior seems necessary in moving the plot forward. When the movie’s plotline is just about to wear thin, director O’Connor gives us a third act that is almost entirely action packed, managing to keep the viewer’s attention. My only issue with Warrior came during the obligatory training montage scene. During this scene, O’Connor has between two and four different smaller views moving across the screen at any given time. I understand that since we have two main characters, this spares the audience from having to sit through two different training montages, but there is just too much happening on the screen simultaneously.
In addition to the action, the main strength of Warrior comes from its two leading men. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton both deliver excellent performances and really help to carry the film when the scenes aren’t in the middle of that octagon ring. They play very different characters, with their own motives and reactions to the dissolution of their family, and manage to convey their pain almost tangibly.
As a side note, Tom Hardy looks absolutely ripped, so if you happen to be a fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, it makes his casting as Bane in the upcoming Batman installment a lot more believable. However, the best performance in the movie was served up by screen veteran Nick Nolte as Tommy and Brendan’s estranged father, Paddy. A former alcoholic who split his family apart, he wants to try to make things right with the two sons who blame him for most of the tragedy in their respective lives.
A scene early on in Warrior, where Paddy (Nolte) goes to tell Brendan about his brother Tommy’s return from the Iraq war, is a banner moment for Nolte as an actor. Nick Nolte’s performance as Paddy is heartbreaking, but at the same time it is hard for Brendan to overlook his father’s past and to accept him.
The film’s emotional core is what ultimately makes Warrior work. What fails to work is the predictability of the film’s outcome, as is the case with many sports centered films.
Granted, the dialogue in Warrior can be a bit weak at times, but the action and performances are enough to draw you in and make you root for one outcome or the other, depending upon which character you happen to gravitate towards.
Warrior does act as an effective vehicle for promoting the world of mixed martial arts and the UFC, which is still an up-and-coming sport. To that end, with all of the odds against it, Warrior is able to provide an entertaining and dramatic experience for theatre goers, mixed martial arts fan or not.
Rated PG-13. Runtime 139 min. Theatrical release 9/9/2011.
PR.com Rating: B-