Warrior (starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton)
Gripping my chair, grinding my teeth and occasionally doing my best (but failing) to hold back tears, WARRIOR exquisitely balances tension and emotion in a magnitude unmatched. Because of the care, believability and investment put into these characters, it is not only an exciting sports film about mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting but also a genuine heart felt drama.
Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a high school physics teacher happily married with two daughters. After the bank threatens to repossess their home, Brendan, a former unsuccessful UFC fighter, begins to fight again in small, organized tournaments during the evenings for extra cash. Unfortunately, the school suspends him without pay because of his after school activity. His brother, Tommy (Tom Hardy) is an intense ex-Marine running from a mysterious past, showing up at his recovering alcoholic father’s (superbly portrayed by Nick Nolte) doorstep after nearly a lifetime of no communication. Despite Tommy’s hatred toward him, he asks his father to train him as he once did. The hardship of this family’s past has kept them angry, bitter and estranged but through very different motives they find themselves in the same winner-take-all MMA tournament battling intimidating opponents with unlikely chances to win.
There are so many specifics that make this film great. Capturing moments and feelings better than I’ve seen in a long time; it’s hard for me not to over-tell the story and technique. Gavin O’Conner directs the film with wise precision, perfectly creating different moods and adjusting the pace. I quickly forgave the moments of overly shaky hand held camera shots in turn for his interesting and purposeful camera angles balanced with steady holds that allowed the characters space.
Showing a wife staring at a phone in nervous anticipation as she waits to hear if her husband has survived a fight or looking outside a glass screened door that distorts a pathetic old man pleading for forgiveness in hopes to see his grandchildren – these are details that create a story without using words. With the help of great supporting characters using relatable comedic moments, the tension is broken up perfectly. These people are who we understand as they know, support and care for our leads as much as we do and their excitement reflects our own cheering that will unavoidably overcome the audience. But nothing showcases WARRIOR better than how it avoids the trap of using a typical tiresome yet important time lapse of our characters preparing for their fight. It’s not just cool training sequences, but it’s informative and continually moving. While showing both brothers prepare separately on split screens highlighting key moments, ESPN is covering pre-shows on a third screen about the upcoming fight and the different opponents. It’s exciting and educating, pushing the story further and executing the age-old montage flawlessly.
For a film set mostly with fighters in a caged ring, surprisingly little is talked about fighting technique. The time is wisely focused on motivation and relationships never forcing exposition but rather gradually learning who these people are. With that said, they are so rich with personality that we immediately do know who they are. We understand their father was an alcoholic with a negative experience for the boys without ever going into specific details because that isn’t important. What is important are who these characters have become and their internal battle to overcome these lasting affects.
I can’t say enough about the two lead actors. Obviously, Tom Hardy was first recognized in last years incredible INCEPTION, which led to the role as the villain Bane in next year’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Needless to say he will undoubtedly be a superstar once that comes out. Joel Edgerton was in last year’s lesser seen but decent ANIMAL KINGDOM and although he had a small part he really had great commanding presence. Both actors transform totally different from their previous roles and are nearly unrecognizable here. They breathe life into these characters with such deep emotion that make them relatable and likeable. I don’t remember ever rooting for two characters as much as I do for them. I love these guys!
Boxing films have a long history of success with ROCKY, RAGING BULL, MILLION DOLLAR BABY and last year’s THE FIGHTER that will only continue with WARRIOR as a new breed of boxing film in mixed martial arts. Focusing on the characters with the sport as a backdrop, WARRIOR is the ROCKY for a new generation that when compared to these great films is strong enough to stand on its own. While extremely exciting in action, it also manages to penetrate the soul revealing pain and love through all the characters. Along with the mountain of positive accolades that I’ve already mentioned, WARRIOR is most successful because of its heart. I’m truly passionate about this film and I hope and believe that it will be a great success for everyone involved.