Now this is how you make a ‘fight’ movie. Warrior is exactly the kind of film I expected to see when I sat down to watch The Fighter last winter. My gripings about weak characterizations and a dulled impact were met with responses comparing the true story to Rocky. I called bullshit then and I point to Warrior as a stunning example of the gold standard for these type of films. There are three outstanding performances in Warrior by Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. Each is Oscar worthy and comparable to Christian Bale’s admittedly fascinating portrayal of the drug addled Dickie Eklund.
Many sports films come along with the marketing machine suggesting comparisons to Rocky, finally we have a film that deserves the praise. Writer and director Gavin O’ Connor has combined the excitement of his previous sports film Miracle with the nuanced personal drama from his sophomore effort (the under appreciated) Pride and Glory.
If Warrior can be faulted it may be for being a little too straightforward story-wise. Brothers Brendan (Edgerton) and Tommy Connelly (Hardy) are estranged from each other and their alcoholic once abusive father Paddy (Nolte). Brendan is a schoolteacher by day and a participant in parking lot MMA matches for cash at night. Tommy is an AWOL Marine with a chip on his shoulder and dynamite in his hands. Both men are compelled to enter a round-robin MMA tournament for a prize of five million dollars. As circumstance may have it the brothers are forced to confront each other in a bout that is both visceral and emotionally gripping. The outcome of the big fight is peculiar in that we are rooting for both men, and the screenplay does a balanced job of evenly handling the lead up to the fight. Nobody is made out to be the ‘bad’ guy, just two men fighting for a goal and each other’s respect. In a genre that welcomes cliches, Warrior does a particularly deft job at avoiding any.
The first 45 minutes of this film are very intimate. These characters live in a world that is small, focused and suppressed. The middle section of the film is dedicated to the training and tournament build up and the last thirty minutes are all action. It’s a thrilling example of cinema done right, I can’t remember the last time a walk to the ring seemed so intense on screen. I kept waiting for Warrior to hit a false note or step wrong and it never did. In the words of another famous ‘fight’ film, ‘Flawless Victory’. One of the best films of the year.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte