Starring Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte & Joel Edgerton
Director Gavin O'Connor
140 min., PG-13
Release date Sept. 9, 2011
Watching two guys beat each other senseless might not be your idea of a great night out, but don't dismiss Warrior because it happens to be set in the pulverizing world of mixed martial arts.
What takes place outside the ring (or cage, in this case) is at the heart of this knockout of a movie, not the flying fists, jabbing kicks and bone-breaking body slams of its well-staged fight scenes.
It's a story of two estranged brothers who end up squaring off against each other—and the two very different paths that lead them to a championship brawl-o-rama of the anything-goes, full-contact sport that takes old-school boxing and wrestling up a few noggin-bustin' notches.
The actors who play the brothers are both outstanding. Joel Edgerton is Brendon Conlon, a well-liked high school physics teacher, husband and father secretly moonlighting in mixed martial arts matchups to stave off foreclosure on his home. Tom Hardy is a raging force of nature as Brendan's younger brother, Tommy, an ex-U.S. Marine fighting to exorcise his battlefield demons.
The movie artfully conveys the differences between Brendon and Tommy's motivations, personalities, life experiences and fighting techniques. Brendon enters the arena to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and wears his opponents down by waiting patiently for the precise moment to pounce. Tommy strides in silent and sulking, comes out swinging, and doesn't even hang around at the end of a bout for the referee to declare him the winner.
But Nick Nolte, a veteran actor in a significant supporting role, packs the movie's power punch as the brothers' father, a recovering alcoholic whose drinking split up his family. This is the meatiest dramatic role Nolte's had in years, and he sinks in his teeth. His heartbreaking efforts at reconciliation with his sons, both of whom despise him and rebuff him, is the stuff of which Oscar nominations are born.
The legacy of other boxing movies, Rocky in particular, looms large. But Warrior confronts the obvious clichés early—then clobbers them and gets down to business. The fighting is shot and choreographed with great detail, effectively and powerfully depicting a dangerously violent sport without glorifying its brutality.
Director Gavin O'Connor, whose sports drama Miracle (2004) brought a new level of rousing intensity to the tale of the U.S.A.'s 1984 Olympics hockey victory, sets up a schmaltz-free zone where there's much more at stake than the championship bout's $5 million prize.
Yes, Warrior has a fierce-sounding title, it's about two fighters, and it hits hard. But its story, characters and dramatic intensity make for a stronger, more sensitive and much more emotionally rich movie than its surly-looking surface textures might suggest.