In a time when the box-office can be hot one moment and ice cold the next it’s not shocking that Warrior fell flat during its theatrical run. While mixed martial arts (MMA) may be at an all time high for popularity, the way this film was advertised made it look like a predictable Rocky underdog knock-off that might as well have gone direct to video. While not shocking, it is unfortunate, as Warrior is one of the most emotionally impactful and all around inspirational films of the year.
When Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) comes home to find his son, ex-marine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), on his doorstep after a 14-year absence he’s both overjoyed and surprised — especially since Paddy’s drunken, abusive past was the reason Tommy left with his mother all those years ago. But times have changed, and while Tommy isn’t ready to forgive and forget, he does want his father do the one thing he was good at and that’s to help train him for the biggest MMA tournament in the history of the sport.
Meanwhile, Tommy’s brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) — who took a different path and became a physics teacher after a short-lived career as a UFC fighter — finds his whole world spinning out of control. With he and his wife both working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and his youngest daughter with a heart condition, Brendan goes against his wife’s wishes and begins training to once again become a fighter. When an opportunity to get into the tournament opens up, Brendan jumps at the chance to enter, finally seeing a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. With all the pieces in place, Brendan and Tommy find themselves vying for a prize they both need, while confronting the demons of their past that tore their family apart so many years ago.
While this easily could have been a tournament style movie that quickly tossed together some melodramatic story to paste in-between the fight sequences, Warrior chose to go the opposite route. The dramatic tension and the story built between the fight scenes are actually the meat of the film. What’s better is that the battles that take place throughout are always culminations of what characters are feeling at that moment in the story, which helps raise the emotional stakes and takes the film to the next level.
Director Gavin O’Connor (Pride and Glory, Miracle) does a fantastic job of bringing the viewer right into the lives of the characters in the story. The film is a lengthy 140 minutes, however, not once did I find myself glancing at a clock. O’Connor paces the film perfectly, never placing two fights back to back, or dragging on a dramatic scene longer than it needs to be. It’s also incredibly well put together in that there’s no clear-cut character the audience is supposed to route for. Both Tommy and Brendan have strengths and faults, and it really depends on the viewer’s perspective as to which they may find themselves routing for throughout. This really helps the film become an incredibly engrossing, and constantly engaging piece of work.
Warrior also has superb acting going for it, as all three of the main actors involve really leave it all on the mat. When the film first came onto the scene there was heavy talk of Nolte getting some award recognition for his work here. While that hasn’t come to fruition it doesn’t change the fact that this is some of his best work over the past decade. It’s hard to take on the part of a father with an abusive and alcoholic past and make the character somewhat sympathetic, but Nolte does so with ease. Hardy, who has become one of the hottest young actors in Hollywood since his work in last year’s Inception (and will no doubt become even bigger after his work as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises), proves his worth here, helping to carry the film alongside Edgerton (who is most recognizable on this side of the world as Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels). Edgerton does a fantastic job of really bringing the underdog persona to this film. Both men have wonderful chemistry together both in and outside of the ring, which really helps drive the movie home.
For those wondering, you do not have to be a fan of MMA to enjoy this film. I know absolutely nothing about the sport and I was captivated from start to finish. While Warrior revolves around the fights that transpire inside a steel cage, it’s the characters and their stories that help make this film such an incredibly rich, heartfelt experience that definitely shouldn’t be missed.
The film is presented in 1080p HD and it looks great. There’s an obvious tone that O’Connor was going for throughout and he nailed it. It’s not a crisp looking film, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s got character and it works. The audio is a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio transfer that works perfectly. The fights sound fantastic, the crowds sound superb, as does the music and the dialogue throughout. Definitely some of the best transfers I’ve seen recently and they’ll only help this film gain the recognition it deserves.
The special features found on the disc are abundant and well worth watching for fans of the film who want to learn more about the making-off process, as well as maybe a bit more about the sport of MMA in general.
Feature Audio Commentary with Filmmakers and Actor Joel Edgerton – Here we have O’Connor and Edgerton leading the way, along with co-writer Anthony Tambakis and editor John Gilroy. This one has some solid information that is touched upon throughout, though it’s definitely not the most exciting commentary. Be patient and it will pay off in the long run.
Full Contact: Feature Length Enhanced Viewing Mode – This feature plays during the movie, but instead of having a small screen where the cast and crew talk while the movie plays we have them taking up three fourths of the screen while the movie is just large enough to see what’s going on and what they’re talking about. For those looking to dive right into the meat and potatoes of what made this film tick, both of these first two features will give you plenty of what you’re looking for.
Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life Documentary – This is a hearty featurette running at just about 32 minutes in length. It’s a lot of cast and crew talking about the making of the film and all that went in to putting it together. It’s an interesting piece and for those who can’t stand commentaries or the enhanced viewing mode, this may prove to be enough background information for you.
The Diner: Deleted Scene – This is a three-minute scene between Hardy and Nolte that was eventually cut. It’s a solid scene, yet as is the case with most deleted scenes it almost seems out of place watching it after the film is done. While well done, it just wasn’t needed and would have only slowed the well-paced film down.
Cheap Shots: Gag Reel – Almost four minutes of gags are found in this featurette. It’s harmless fun for those looking for a quick chuckle.
Brother Vs. Brother: Anatomy of the Fight – This featurette runs at roughly 11-minutes and is incredibly interesting. It’s the actual fight scene between the two brothers from the movie playing in the bottom corner of the screen, while above the choreographed scene between the two actors is edited together simultaneously. Very fun to watch take place!
Simply Believe: A Tribute to Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr. – This is a 14-minute tribute to the co-founder of Tapout, who helped lay the groundwork for this film as a consultant and passed away just before filming began.
Warrior is an emotional tale about a family torn apart early in life that finds all the problems from the past come to a head during the biggest MMA tournament in history. It’s a gripping film with incredible acting throughout, and a story that will have you captivating from start to finish. Highly recommended.
Lionsgate presents Warrior. Directed by: Gavin O’Connor. Written by: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman. Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison. Running time: 140 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on Blu-ray: December 20, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Gavin O'Connor, Joel Edgerton, MMA, Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, UFC, Warrior