23 September 2011


If you've seen the trailer for Warrior, then this reviews holds no spoilers whatsoever. If you're completely unaware of this film, proceed with caution.

As this is the week when the whole UK has seemingly gone Gay For Gosling, it's entirely incidental that I'm talking about Warrior, as it previewed on Wednesday. I've yet to see Drive or Crazy, Stupid, Love, but I feel it's just as important, if not more so, to talk about a film whose central sport has been getting far more flak in the course of the national conversation than the film itself would want or deserve.

It's also an mixed martial arts film that takes place in the context of a worthy and awards-friendly film, which draws natural comparisons to The Fighter, a sports drama from earlier this year. Like David O. Russell's film, Warrior centres around the family dynamic of two estranged brothers, Brendan and Tommy, who wind up competing in the same MMA world championship tournament through a series of fortuitous but separate coincidences. The Conlons are on a collision course in the cage, but is their relationship beyond repair?

In the way of all movies that take a niche subject and imbue it with mainstream crossover potential, I can't be sure how MMA fans will react to Warrior. The response thus far seems to be largely positive, and justifiably so. But it still feels like a film that will be overlooked during awards season, even though it has spectacular performances, an inventive and unassuming script, and the kind of sporting underdog story that awards knobs usually lap up. Hell, it gives us two underdogs for the price of one.

The distinction between Brendan, played by Joel Edgerton, and Tommy, played by Tom Hardy, mixes up the film in a way that constantly keeps the audience entertained, and allows itself to play to procedural sports movie exercises without seeming repetitive or predictable. For instance, Tommy's fights are hugely enjoyable, because that character is both deeply methodical and stubbornly unorthodox, which also makes those scenes quite brief. Brendan, on the other hand, is one of those fighters who can take a lot of punishment, and so his fights are more drawn out, but also more emotionally satisfying. Alternating between Brendan and Tommy keeps the film interesting and exciting on the way to the brothers' inevitable final showdown.

Even if this weren't an entirely predictable plot point, the film's trailers have all but given away that the final contenders in Sparta, the Superbowl-style MMA contest that aims to find the sport's new middle-weight champion of the world, are Brendan and Tommy. That makes this a film that runs for 140 minutes, in which you already know where it's going. Thankfully, the film averts all this by not casting either as the hero or the villain of the piece. By taking the time to endear both brothers to the audience, that final fight arrives with the feeling that it could go either way. An audience might even be split between rooting for two different characters to win.

If we're comparing it to The Fighter, then Brendan is the Wahlberg, and Tommy is the Bale. Tom Hardy seethes with indignant rage, but he pulls off the complexities of Tommy's character beautifully. Seen back-to-back with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, you could see the massive difference between his two performances, for films released in two consecutive weeks, and appreciate his tremendous range as an actor. The character is a force of nature, but he's no mindless thug. But as Bale said when he picked up his Oscar for playing Dicky Eklund, you can't do a performance that big without a small performance for balance.

Edgerton's another rising star, and although Hardy's is the better performance, Brendan is just as determined as Tommy, and with equally compelling reasons. He's the foil to Hardy, and between the two of them, they have a believable, troubled family dynamic. Complicating matters further is their father, Paddy, a recovering alcoholic who Tommy enlists as a trainer, despite the fact that he hates his old man's guts. Nick Nolte, a guy who constantly sounds on the verge of being sick, gives the film a tempered performance and a good chunk of its emotional heft. If the film does get any awards recognition, I suspect it would be Hardy and Nolte jostling for a Best Supporting Actor nod, with Edgerton sadly stuck in much the same position as Mark Wahlberg last February.

It's director Gavin O'Connor's method of delivery that makes Warrior such an entertaining watch, regardless of how predictable the plot may be. Also, the script is smart, constantly alternating between all of the variables at work; the talky scenes and the action scenes; the drama and the comic relief; Brendan and Tommy. And with strong, accomplished performances from the cast, it all comes together to make the most ferociously fulfilling 140 minutes you've seen all year. Even if it's not fully appreciated in its own time, it's destined to join Field of Dreams and O'Connor's own Miracle as the kind of sports movie that elicits manly tears from its viewers for years to come.

Warrior is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Warrior, why not share your comments below? Next summer- Dicky Eklund vs. Tommy Conlon. After seeing this film, I'm surprisingly uncertain about putting my money on Batman to win that battle...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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