Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material.
Films in which boxing or other forms of physical violence stand in for verbal communication between men are hardly new, but “Warrior” sets its conversation-with-fists in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competitive arena. As a bonus, it stars two actors who manage to deliver not only believable combat stunts but impressive performances as well. This is no ordinary sports film.
The family that Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) come from is easily in the top ten for movie dysfunction. That much is obvious from the way they each interact with their father Paddy (Nick Nolte) — one sullen and angry, the other with a verbal restraining order . The depths of the family’s problems are revealed in skillfully paced dribs and drabs over the course of the film, and as much shown as described in fragments of dialog. This is not a family of chatty people.
The plot, which involves the brothers both entering, unbeknownst to each other, in the biggest MMA tournament of all time, is a straightforward one. You don’t have to have seen very many sports films to know that at some point the two of them will fight each other, and finally resolve all the issues they haven’t been able to talk through. As with all movies of this genre, it’s the process of getting to that fight that makes or breaks the film, and director Gavin O’Connor handles it masterfully. Everything here is very well-crafted, from the little details (Paddy’s fondness for an audiobook of “Moby Dick”) to the big montages (which are entertaining and move the story forward).
What really makes “Warrior” worth seeing, though, is the performances. Anyone who’s seen Hardy before knows the man can act, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Tommy is a brooding, broken man, and Hardy has the skill to give us both the bullish, hulking fighter and the angry, grieving little boy underneath. Edgerton has an even trickier line to walk, in some ways. Brendan is a good, sensitive guy, a man trying to learn from the miseries and mistakes of his past. He’s a fighter and a father, a man who can play gently with his little girls at home and can rip a man’s shoulder half apart in the ring. It would be easy to slide into a white knight stereotype, but Edgerton manages to avoid that, making Brendan someone who is far from perfect, but is trying his hardest.
Of course, the film is packed with wall-to-wall violence. Yes, it’s in the ring. Yes, there are rules. But not all the rules are followed, and the emotional impact of some of the fights is hard to overstate. That “Warrior” is only rated PG-13 says a lot about our ratings system. The sound effects are brutal. Characters are knocked out with a single punch, or beaten until they lose consciousness and their pummeller has to be pulled off them. There are some amazing wrestling and joint-locking moves performed, and folks with an appreciation for the grace and skill that go into fighting will not be disappointed, but if you’ve never admired the choreography of a fight scene, this is not a movie for you.
“Warrior” is at its heart a complex, emotional family drama that happens to take place in a family of MMA fighters. It does have a lot of the stock sports movie cliches (including a hulking, undefeated monster of a fighter from Russia), but its main characters and their relationships do not disappoint. If you like movies about fighting, or like character dramas and don’t mind some violence, do not miss this film. If you prefer movies without blood and the sound of fists hitting flesh, stay away.