I typically hate sports movies. I cannot get past the fact that they’re all the same. A flawed character or team of characters always has to make a big change that cleans up that flaw in order to make it to a single big game. Even though the character or team makes this huge change for the good, there are only three possible outcomes to the story: they never make it to big game, but it’s okay because they’re better people now; they make it and lose, but again it’s okay because they’re better people; or they make it and win, which happens more often than not. I don’t care if it’s “Based on a True Story” or not, sports movies usually bore me to a numb death. But every once in a while, a strong, well-written sports film will offer more than the usual formula. Thankfully, and surprisingly, ‘Warrior’ is one of those.
By definition, ‘Warrior’ is a sports film – but there’s a lot more going on than just ultimate fighting (a.k.a. Mixed Martial Arts or MMA). ‘Warrior’ revolves around a father and his two sons. Because the majority of their story is shrouded in a slowly-unraveling mystery, I’ll keep it vague.
The film opens as Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) comes home from A.A. one night to find his son Tommy sitting on the front steps. Tommy has been gone for many years. When the violence from his drunken and abusive father became too much, he and his mother ran as far as they could. This is the first time that Paddy has seen Tommy since then. Although Tommy resents his father, he seeks his help to train for a major fighting tournament deemed “the Superbowl of MMA.”
Tommy is also estranged from his older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton). The only things that Tommy and Brendan have in common are their abilities to fight and a mutual hatred toward their father. Brendan has left his broken family behind and replaced them with a loving wife and two beautiful girls of his own. But times are tough for his own small family. He and his wife work three jobs between them just to barely stay afloat. When suspended from his job, Brendan aims for a long shot and unknowingly begins training for the same tournament that Tommy has entered. Both brothers have their eyes on the $5 million pot that goes to the winner.
‘Warrior’ is less about the tournament and more about the characters. Yet that doesn’t mean the fighting moments aren’t warmly welcome and abundant. Confrontation is just around the bend – both inside and outside the cage. As a single-elimination tournament, it’s almost inevitable that the brothers will fight against one another. Despite what you might think, the film is also unpredictable. Tommy is a tool of blunt force, like a wrecking ball that drops everything in its path, and Brendan is a technique-savvy, high endurance machine.
Although ‘Warrior’ features a long 139-minute runtime, you’ll never once check your watch. Not only does the movie completely engulf you emotionally, it never comes close to feeling long. I avoided MMA fights for as long as they’ve been around. It’s not my thing, but I was literally sitting at the edge of my seat during the fighting scenes in ‘Warrior’, almost cheering out loud for the fighter I wanted to win. Fantastic performances from Hardy (now I really can’t wait to see him pay Bane in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’), Edgerton (see ‘Animal Kingdom‘ if you haven’t already) and Nolte (whom I wanted to punch in the face while watching ‘Zookeeper’) give a perfect balance to the emotionally-charged, fight-filled film.
Trust me on this. Amidst this bland spell of theatrical releases, ‘Warrior’ is an entertaining film of fine quality.