Warrior - Written and directed by Gavin O'Connor, starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte - Rated PG-13
Warrior isn’t a film just about fighting. It’s really the story of two brothers, Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton). Tommy is a quiet but intense Iraq war vet who just seems to have a need to fight (and an undiagnosed case of PTSD). Brendan is a school teacher who moonlights as a fighter to make ends meet. The brothers are estranged, but are connected by their hatred for their recovering alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). Both fighters decide to enter a winner takes all tournament with a purse of $5 million.
The film is much deeper than just brother vs. brother for a bunch of money, though. It’s truly a character piece that follows a family through some very trying moments. In fact, there’s enough going on with each character that the entire film could focus on a single character and still be compelling. Thankfully, though, it shares the wealth and allows all three characters to have their moments.
The fact that the film doesn’t focus on one brother more than the other and doesn’t make one of them out to be a villain helps Warrior immensely. The problem with most fighting films is that there are no surprises. There’s a good guy and a bad guy, they match up, it looks like good guy might lose, but good guy finds an extra bit of courage and prevails, credits. That doesn’t happen in Warrior because there is no good guy or bad guy. Both brothers have noble reasons for wanting the prize money as well so it doesn’t make sense to root for one over the other for that. Not having a clear individual to root for makes the movie much more interesting.
It also helps that some great, dedicated actors portray the family in question. Tom Hardy is quickly becoming one of the most exciting actors working today after his role in Bronson and his turn here. It’s going to be very interesting to see how he does as Bane in next year’s The Dark Knight Rises. Edgerton, an accomplished Australian actor, is impressive as Brendan. Hopefully this is the first of many good performances in American cinema. And Nick Nolte is simply perfectly cast as their troubled father.
Most people will want to check out Warrior for the fight scenes, though, and the film delivers on that front as well. The fights are always intense and suspenseful. The handheld style of the film makes a few of the scenes a little hard to follow, but overall that handheld style really places you in the fight. The two leads were willing to get bulked up for the film as well and they make for some imposing fighters, especially Hardy. The fights manage to remain realistic, as well, while being amped up just a bit for cinematic effect. Warrior also handles the required training montage with a bit of style in a split screen portion of the film.
A training montage might sound like a bit of a cliché in this day and age, but it’s actually refreshing to see an old school type fighting movie. A potential problem when dealing with a film like this, however, is repeating other fighting films. There are definitely a few in here along the lines of a doubting, reluctant wife, but since the film is spread out amongst so many characters that aspect doesn’t take center stage. And there are a few cheesy attempts at humor here and there when it comes to fans and local people watching the fights but it all works in the end because the film has earned these moments by being so great on every other level.
Warrior is simply a great film (definitely on my top five of the year thus far) that keeps you hooked from the opening scene and never lets you go. It’s good enough that you barely even notice that it is well over two hours long. The film manages to keep you interested to the point that you forget you’re watching a movie because you feel so much for the characters and you are not sure what is going to happen to them. In a weird sort of way writer-director Gavin O’Connor embraces typical fighting movie tropes but manages to keep things fresh. It’s impossible to undercut just how important the structure of this film is. Warrior is about a family, no good guys or bad guys, just a family. You want things to work out for everyone but you don’t have a clue how it’s going to work out, and that makes Warrior one of the most compelling films of the year.