The following is a review of “Warrior” that I wrote today for the IUN newspaper, the Redhawk Review.
In 2004, director/screenwriter Gavin O’Connor showed considerable skill at telling a sports underdog tale with the popular film “Miracle”, based on the true story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. With “Warrior”, this time an original and current narrative, he sets a new high-water mark for himself.
The story centers on brothers Tommy and Brendan Conlon (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, respectively) and their recovering-alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte). Right from the get-go, the Pittsburgh family’s traumatic past hangs like a specter over the protagonists, informing nearly every nuance of the three men’s performances. Paddy is approaching 1,000 days sober, but as his estranged sons come back into his life, forgiveness for the abuse and neglect that left them scarred and their mother dead does not come easily.
A family of warriors, Tommy and Brendan were both dominant wrestlers in their youth who became fearsome MMA (mixed martial arts; think UFC) fighters as adults. Their father provided both training and, unfortunately, fuel for their respective fires. They seemed destined to finally clash in the ring one day. When a new winner-takes-all middleweight championship with a 5 million dollar purse (which they both have honorable intentions for) comes up, the brothers jump at the opportunity.
Tom Hardy, whom you might recognize as Eames from “Inception”, oozes with an incredibly authentic combination of profound psychic pain and myopic intensity, commanding the viewer’s attention. As we slowly learn throughout the story, the ex-Marine’s motivations are more complex than a grudge against his father. Joel Edgerton is just as convincing, effectively conveying both quiet despair and white-knuckled determination as a man fighting for his wife and children’s future.
The grizzled veteran Nick Nolte shows at least two moments of sheer brilliance. In Paddy’s first scene with his oldest son Brendan, Nolte exudes genuine remorse and heart-wrenching longing. Later, he shows his more belligerent side in a surprisingly tender scene with Hardy, injecting into the film some much-needed catharsis.
Supporting players Jennifer Morrison (of “House” fame), Frank Grillo, Vanessa Martinez, and Kevin Dunn complement the stars well, bolstering the story’s plausibility in various ways.
O’Connor’s direction is classic and straightforward early on, becoming more dynamic and modern during the many climactic fight scenes. Speaking of fight scenes, “Warrior” may be an earnest drama, but it is also a sports movie in the legendary Rocky tradition; No matter how intense the emotions get, the increasingly brutal bouts are exhilarating to behold.
Screenwriters Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman’s sturdy, fleshed-out screenplay doesn’t overflow with originality and may be a tad long. However, it does present a classic-yet-modern take on the genre while diligently building up to a satisfying resolution of uncanny depth and complexity. The viewer doesn’t want to see either man lose, hoping against hope that both will find solace.
If you’re a fan of MMA fighting, a sucker for underdog stories, or just crave a good applause-inducing sports film, get to the theater and catch “Warrior” while you still can.