Warrior – Review



starstarstarhalf

Weak marketing downplays film’s substantial dramatic weight.

If they handed out awards for worst marketing for exceptional films, this year’s Warrior would be a viable contender. From the rousing music that communicates to the viewer the drive of the human spirit, and the fact that it tells us what to expect in the last act, the trailer does everything in its power to dumb things down for the audience. This had to be studio Lionsgate’s intent, having conducted focus groups on how to market the Mixed Martial Arts drama.  Having seen the success of last year’s The Fighter, the trailer wants to convey something similar. Warrior wants to be that film.

It is not.

It’s better than The Fighter.

With so many sports films being released over the years you sort of know what to expect. It can end one of two ways. Either the hero will win or lose. But for this drama set in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, the film is more about the conflicts outside the caged arena involving a once-alcoholic-now-sobered father trying to reconnect with his two estranged sons. Regardless of who wins or loses in the final bout, it is what occurs immediately afterward that gives the picture its lasting impression. Those expecting the type of rah-rah Hollywood celebratory ending you would normally associate with a sports film may walk out of the theater confounded.

The narrative is tightly focused on three men: estranged brothers Tommy and Brendan Conlon and their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte). Tommy (Tom Hardy), a marine serving in Iraq, has come home to Pittsburgh to train for a spot in Sparta, a MMA event where the last man standing will be awarded a $5 million prize. He needs help training so he goes to his Old Man, who was instrumental in his success as high-school wrestler. Tommy isn’t looking for forgiveness and won’t offer any to the man whose drinking and booze-fueled spousal abuse drove a wedge in the family. While Paddy wants to re-connect, offering up that he is approaching his thousandth day of sobriety, Tommy makes a point that their current relationship is strictly trainer and fighter, not father and son.

Meanwhile, Tommy’s older brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a former UFC fighter now high-school teacher, begins his own journey to Sparta. His pursuit is simple: money. He needs cash to save his home from foreclosure. When he isn’t grading assignments at home at night, Brendan engages in low-level fighting contests for extra money. This doesn’t sit well with his wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison), or the school board once they find out that he’s been moonlighting as a MMA fighter. Suspended from teaching, and with his back against the wall, Brendan pursues his own entry into Sparta with trainer-friend Frank Campana (Frank Grillo).

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize what ultimately happens. Tommy and Brendan will end up fighting one another with their father watching from afar. So we are left with an interesting predicament. Who do we root for? There is no clear-cut hero or villain. Both are fighting for completely different, but honorable, reasons. But the $5 million prize is secondary to how the two brothers handle the situation. Director Gavin O’Connor dispenses with typical sports cliches by elevating this contest where redemption and reconciliation weigh heavily.

To his credit O’Connor manages to draw out strong performances from the three leads. Tom Hardy plays Tommy Conlon intensely, reminiscent of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. There are moments where he rages on screen only able to growl his lines. Joel Edgerton plays Brendan as a sensitive father of two cherub-faced daughters who has compartmentalized his past feelings of rage. It is only when he fights in cheap parlors that the rage and desperation to keep his family afloat awaken his bestial qualities. Nick Nolte’s anguished performance as Paddy, as a broken man so remorseful for his past acts of malevolence that he is unable to express anger, is among the actor’s best.

When I first saw Warrior back in August I left not terribly impressed. But on the drive home and for the next few days the movie’s themes were turning over in my head. The fractured relationships between a father and his two sons looked to be stereotypical when in fact may have been closer to truth than fiction.

Warrior may be the crowd-pleasing fight movie as the advertisements would lead you to believe, but it is also a sympathetic and emotional enriching story about frayed family bonds that come together in a bittersweet finale. Do your best to ignore the ads (yes, even the one that follows this review) and go in just knowing you are going to watch a sports film that is a great family drama to boot.


Director: Gavin O’Connor
Notable Cast: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, and Frank Grillo
Writer(s): Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, and Cliff Dorfman

Tags: , , , , , , ,





Warrior – Review



starstarstarhalf

Weak marketing downplays film’s substantial dramatic weight.

If they handed out awards for worst marketing for exceptional films, this year’s Warrior would be a viable contender. From the rousing music that communicates to the viewer the drive of the human spirit, and the fact that it tells us what to expect in the last act, the trailer does everything in its power to dumb things down for the audience. This had to be studio Lionsgate’s intent, having conducted focus groups on how to market the Mixed Martial Arts drama. Having seen the success of last year’s The Fighter, the trailer wants to convey something similar. Warrior wants to be that film.

It is not.

It’s better than The Fighter.

With so many sports films being released over the years you sort of know what to expect. It can end one of two ways. Either the hero will win or lose. But for this drama set in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, the film is more about the conflicts outside the caged arena involving a once-alcoholic-now-sobered father trying to reconnect with his two estranged sons. Regardless of who wins or loses in the final bout, it is what occurs immediately afterward that gives the picture its lasting impression. Those expecting the type of rah-rah Hollywood celebratory ending you would normally associate with a sports film may walk out of the theater confounded.

The narrative is tightly focused on three men: estranged brothers Tommy and Brendan Conlon and their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte). Tommy (Tom Hardy), a marine serving in Iraq, has come home to Pittsburgh to train for a spot in Sparta, a MMA event where the last man standing will be awarded a $5 million prize. He needs help training so he goes to his Old Man, who was instrumental in his success as high-school wrestler. Tommy isn’t looking for forgiveness and won’t offer any to the man whose drinking and booze-fueled spousal abuse drove a wedge in the family. While Paddy wants to re-connect, offering up that he is approaching his thousandth day of sobriety, Tommy makes a point that their current relationship is strictly trainer and fighter, not father and son.

Meanwhile, Tommy’s older brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a former UFC fighter now high-school teacher, begins his own journey to Sparta. His pursuit is simple: money. He needs cash to save his home from foreclosure. When he isn’t grading assignments at home at night, Brendan engages in low-level fighting contests for extra money. This doesn’t sit well with his wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison), or the school board once they find out that he’s been moonlighting as a MMA fighter. Suspended from teaching, and with his back against the wall, Brendan pursues his own entry into Sparta with trainer-friend Frank Campana (Frank Grillo).

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize what ultimately happens. Tommy and Brendan will end up fighting one another with their father watching from afar. So we are left with an interesting predicament. Who do we root for? There is no clear-cut hero or villain. Both are fighting for completely different, but honorable, reasons. But the $5 million prize is secondary to how the two brothers handle the situation. Director Gavin O’Connor dispenses with typical sports cliches by elevating this contest where redemption and reconciliation weigh heavily.

To his credit O’Connor manages to draw out strong performances from the three leads. Tom Hardy plays Tommy Conlon intensely, reminiscent of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. There are moments where he rages on screen only able to growl his lines. Joel Edgerton plays Brendan as a sensitive father of two cherub-faced daughters who has compartmentalized his past feelings of rage. It is only when he fights in cheap parlors that the rage and desperation to keep his family afloat awaken his bestial qualities. Nick Nolte’s anguished performance as Paddy, as a broken man so remorseful for his past acts of malevolence that he is unable to express anger, is among the actor’s best.

When I first saw Warrior back in August I left not terribly impressed. But on the drive home and for the next few days the movie’s themes were turning over in my head. The fractured relationships between a father and his two sons looked to be stereotypical when in fact may have been closer to truth than fiction.

Warrior may be the crowd-pleasing fight movie as the advertisements would lead you to believe, but it is also a sympathetic and emotional enriching story about frayed family bonds that come together in a bittersweet finale. Do your best to ignore the ads (yes, even the one that follows this review) and go in just knowing you are going to watch a sports film that is a great family drama to boot.


Director: Gavin O’Connor
Notable Cast: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, and Frank Grillo
Writer(s): Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, and Cliff Dorfman

Tags: , , , ,





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