I hate surprises. I really, really do. However, there is nothing more satisfying to me than a surprising film. Going into Warrior I still had some reservations, despite having heard only good things. The heavy focus on Mixed Martial Arts in the trailers led me to wonder if this might just be a really long commercial for UFC. My surprise came not only in finding that this was not a film about MMA but that this was a phenomenal movie, featuring some of the best performances of the year.
The story has an almost fairy-tale simplicity, excising any unnecessary complexities. It concerns two estranged brothers who work their way up the MMA circuit, unaware of the other until they are on a crash course to meeting each other in the ring. Older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a loving father and husband who has no choice but to return to fighting in order to support his family. Younger brother Tommy (Tom Hardy) returns home for the first time in over a decade and enlists their father (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic, to be his trainer but otherwise keeps an emotional distance.
The pacing was excellent, seamlessly intertwining the stories of two complex and very different characters in a subtle balancing act. Unlike many movies, which rely on flashbacks and heavy exposition to form their characters, Warrior works around such conventions and manages to build the story solely on the strength of its cast. It stays in the moment and keeps a steady, consistent pace that is unafraid to take its time in order to fully immerse you in the story. The action might shift from one brother to the other (up to even twenty minutes at times), but you never felt out of the moment or lost in the story.
The cast is by far the most impressive element of this film, which is by no means lacking in impressive elements. Nolte steals the show with an honest, unflinching, and unflattering performance as a man trying to atone for past mistakes and repair a severely damaged relationship with his sons. Tom Hardy, as usual, was beyond words, engrossing himself into his character to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Edgerton, despite having considerably less of the tense, emotional scenes than his counterparts, was instantly relatable and likable, a perfect everyman.
While the film could easily have been forgotten and labeled “Rocky with UFC”, it instead succeeds in rising above that. Warrior turns every boxing movie cliché on its ear, thus escaping mediocrity and establishing itself as a heart-wrenching family drama that uses the fighting as a mere backdrop. The action and emotions are bigger, and the worn-out underdog story that has long plagued this genre is set aside for something much more pertinent. It deals with themes such as forgiveness and unconditional love, as well as many of the modern issues faced by the average American, from war in the Middle East to the fear of your house foreclosing.
Warrior is a wonderfully made film that mesmerizes on the big screen, inducing tears, nail-biting tension and even a welcome chuckle from time to time. It shatters all prior conceptions about what is possible in the genre and will set the bar several notches higher for any filmmaker who wishes to make a boxing film in the future.
The youngest son of an alcoholic former boxer returns home, where he’s trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament – a path that puts the fighter on a collision corner with his older brother.