In 1976 a struggling young actor and writer starred in a film he had penned. The tale of an unlikely underdog from the streets going the distance with the champ made critics and audiences take notice and transformed Sylvester Stallone into a star. The next year Rocky would take home three Oscars including Best Picture. And Hollywood has been trying to remake it ever since.
Much like last year’s critically acclaimed The Fighter (a film others liked more than I did), Warrior begins as a broken family drama concerning two brothers and ends as a typical Hollywood underdog tale complete with training montages and a final showdown in the middle of the ring. Warrior is certainly a little more polished than The Fighter, and presented in a more mainstream Hollywood fashion, but the results are (not surprisingly) very similar.
The film follows the lives of two estranged brothers, both in need of an influx of cash, who separately begin fighting in local MMA matches and are chosen to take part in the sport’s biggest payday ever where 16 fighters will fight to earn a purse of $5,000,000.
Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), an unremarkable former MMA figher, is a respectable school teacher with a wife (Jennifer Morrison), two young daughters (Capri Thomas, Lexi Cowan), and a mortgage he can’t possibly pay. In need of cash he calls in favors from an old friend (Frank Grillo) to train him to make up the money in local MMA fights. When the fighter his friend had been training to compete in the big event injures his knee Brendan gets one more shot at the big leagues.
Tommy Condon (Tom Hardy), fighting under his mother’s maiden name, is an alcoholic former boxer and Marine in need of a payday of his own to help out the widow (Vanessa Martinez) of one of the members of his squad killed in the Middle East. Although both brothers are removed from their alcoholic abusive father (Nick Nolte), Tommy comes home hoping the man will agree to train him but only on the condition his father offers no apologies or excuses for his past behavior.
Although the film contains scenes of Nolte with both of his on-screen sons at its core it really isn’t a father-son film. Warrior is much more about the road two separated brothers take to end up in the same place years later, staring across the ring at each other on the sport’s biggest stage.
The film hides the relationship of the two fighters to the rest of the world until the end, and then, oddly, doesn’t spend much time on the reveal. That’s something you’d think would have a bigger reaction, especially at a highly publicized event like the one they are involved in. It’s also something you’d think would have been uncovered earlier (and not only because Tommy’s coach has the same last name as one of the other competitors who he’s showing more than a passing interest in).
Edgerton is the heart of the film, even if Hardy gets the more prestigious bad boy role. Tommy, the war hero, is the crowd favorite, but his older brother is the underdog fighting for more than just money or honor, but for the livelihood of his family.
I liked the presentation of Brendan’s home life (especially the birthday party which introduces the characters), and Edgerton and Morrison work well together. Some of the other stories such as the principal (Kevin Dunn) and students reaction to Brendan’s stepping into the ring get a little more cute than I’d like.
The fights themselves are a little schizophrenic with shaky cam and quick cuts, at times obscuring what is actually taking place. The excuse for such shots is often to put the audience in the middle of the action. The reality, however, is the method is faster, quicker and allows small blemishes to be hidden as more complicated shots are replaced with jerky mini-montages spliced together from several separate shots. The results are sometimes successful and sometimes maddening and distracting, but when the camera pulls back and allows you to view more of the action it works much better.
Warrior is a little more consistent than The Fighter as it acknowledges from the outset what kind of film it will become, but it still suffers from many of the same flaws. It’s not a great film by any means, but it includes strong performances and is paced well as it builds to the film’s final confrontation. Fans of MMA or movies like those in the Rocky franchise should enjoy themselves.