Warrior tells the story of two struggling brothers, who after being apart for over fourteen years are now set to clash in ‘Sparta’ a mixed martial arts tournament.
Warrior takes a modern approach to the well-trodden fight-film formula by swapping Boxing for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) offering not just one, but two fighter’s stories.
Very much a film of two rounds, the first a well handled, moving melodrama that sets the tone for the climactic, brotherly bash, with both brother’s stories being told separately. The second an intense, blood pumping hour long tournament sequence that has some brilliantly choreographed punching and grappling. It is pure Rocky, the first of the films many comparisons to genre defining classics.
‘Warrior’ number one; Tom Hardy plays Tommy Conlon, drunken fighter, war hero and an all-round angry boy. He wants to get back in the ring after returning from service in the Marines. He’s carrying a whole lot of baggage and fury when he turns up on his trainer Dad’s (Nick Nolte) doorstep. For Tommy, Sparta seems to be his path to exercising his demons.
Weighing in at probably slightly less, ‘Warrior’ number two; Brendon (Joel Edgerton), the other brother has the heart of an underdog; a physics teacher by day moonlighting by night, fighting in biker-bar cage fights, trying to earn enough dough to keep his home. For a reluctant Brendon, Sparta represents his big chance to solve all his money problems.
Both brothers share one thing in common, they cannot forgive their Dad for his past drunken misdemeanours and mistreatment of their mother, which led the family to split fourteen years previous. They haven’t seen each other since.
Dad, Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) is a pitiful shadow of a man deeply in remorse, lonely and a thousand days clean of booze. Trying his best, he is desperate to gain forgiveness from his sons and is struggling not to see Tommy’s reappearance and request to train him once more as a hope of redemption. Tommy makes it crushingly clear that their arrangement is purely professional and rejects any attempts of becoming father and son again.
It is scenes with Tommy and Paddy that are the most melancholy; Tommy continually rebuffs Paddy’s attempts at absolution and glossy reminiscing. Paddy endures a humiliating verbal bruising that is painful and pitiful to watch as he accepts his demeaning punishment for his past crimes. Paddy’s resulting remission forces Tommy to concede momentarily with a touching gesture of care that shows the only glimpse of forgiveness and pity that still exists towards his father. This is ‘Warrior’s’ most emotional and insightful moment, truly sad but brilliant.
Of all the relationships within Warrior it is this father and son relationship that is most hurtful to watch and the most we want to see repaired, both Nolte and Hardy are brilliant, Nolte as good as ever and rightfully earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The second round’s hour long tournament action is superbly handled, with some fantastic fight action and brilliantly dynamic direction from Gavin O’Connor (‘Pride and Glory’ Brilliant also).
Shaky and gritty close ups give a real sense of combat, showing equally the intricacies and ultra-violence of an undoubtedly tough sport. It is again here, that Hardy and Edgerton excel in devoting themselves to the demands of their roles, all physicality, anger and pain, both showing differing fighting styles that too represents the character of the two brothers.
Tommy is all rage and brutal intimidation, moving from one bout to the next, driven by fury and a need to exercise his own demons. Brendon is tough, technical and full of heart, taking a beating on his tentative path to battle his sibling. The climactic brotherly battle is brilliant, emotional and fitting.
‘Warrior’ is always going to be compared with definitive ‘fight’ films like Rocky and the identical brotherly (un)love of Raging Bull, and although not quite matching those two genre defining classics, ‘Warrior’ is a great film in it’s own right. ‘Warrior’ primarily tells an emotional tale of clan dysfunction, that is painfully sad and meaningful, set against a brilliant, charged final hour that may provide hope of family reconciliation.
‘Warrior’ is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD.