Cineworld Glasgow, 05.10.11

Warrior, from director Gavin O’Connor, is essentially an amalgamation of Rocky films, and any number of other boxing movies, but transported into the modern world of Mixed Marshall Art cage fighting.  Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), is an ex-military soldier returning to the US, who turns to his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte) for help to train for the ultimate M.M.A. tournament to be held in Atlantic City.  Meanwhile, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Tommy’s estranged brother, is a high school teacher struggling to support his wife and children, who turns back to cage fighting in order to try to make ends meet. Ultimately, Tommy and Brendan end up both entering the competition in Atlantic City, and it’s not giving too much away to say that, inevitably, they both progress passed all opponents to set up a fight between the brothers with $5 million at stake.

The first half of the film is very much like the first Rocky film, or more realistic sport films, such as last year’s Oscar-winning boxing based The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010). Social conditions force both brothers into the ring in order to earn money, but also to reaffirm their masculinity – Tommy after going AWOL from the military after he was the only survivor from his unit, and looking to support his dead comrades widow and child, while Brendan, as well as needing the money, it’s a about getting away from the domesticity and work as a teacher that has feminised him. It’s no coincidence that we are introduced to Brendan for the first time he is wearing a wig and having his face painted by his daughter. 

It is, of course, all fairly clichéd and familiar from sport and fighting films, but it’s nicely handled by O’Connor, aided by a good cast. Joel Edgerton is decent as Brendan, but the more interesting strand involves Tommy and his relationship with his father, Paddy. Tom Hardy has already shown he can be charismatic, with roles such as his first starring performance in Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2008), but here he manages to ooze charisma and power while hardly uttering a word of dialogue. It’s all impressive brooding, a hulking presence that threatens to unleash itself at any moment, and does so spectacularly in the cage. Taken together with his contrasting role in the recent quiet understated Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011) and Hardy definitely has a long career ahead of him.  Opposite him, as Paddy, Nick Nolte can do grizzled world-weariness without much effort, but here it’s good to see him given something to get his teeth into.  Their half of the story opens up issues of father and son relations, alcoholism, domestic abuse, ageing and forgiveness.  It’s a shame that these issues get swept aside towards the end of the film, as the last third of the movie becomes a whirlwind of cage fighting, and many of these issues are left unresolved.

Ironically, as the cage fighting takes centre stage, the film starts to flounder, and it’s the finale that let’s the film down.  Some elements of the final tournament in Atlantic City are just badly misjudged, like the irritating commentators that constantly utter inane nonsense to accompany every fight, or the introduction of an unrealistic scary Russian fighter (Dolph Lundgren from Rocky IV anyone?), who can defeat every other fighter violently and quickly, until of course, he comes up against the underdog Brendan, who remarkably is able to withstand the pummeling where no-one else could.  Worse than those is the misdirected step of cutting back to Kevin Dunn, as Brendan’s head teacher boss. Dunn’s comedy schtick was tired around about the time of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and here feels completely out of place.

Those not familiar with M.M.A. cage fighting might find it a bit perplexing at times – it’s a mixture of violent punching and kicking, interspersed with some strange wrestling, wriggling about on the floor.  It’s a sign of the fractured state of modern boxing that new fighting sports are being used in a film such as this, which would be ideally suited to the boxing world.  The corruption in boxing, the loss of true characters or heroes from its heyday, mean the sort of Rocky Balboa figure can no longer exist realistically in the boxing world anymore, but from the evidence here, it seems clear that the showbiz style of cage fighting will only send it the same way as boxing. Here we have a tournament prize of $5 million, and all the fighters are the toys of one man – a Don King-style figure, although much less flamboyant – who has organised the entire event , including who should compete.  Money ultimately corrupts all sport, and it is more and more unlikely that this sort of film will be continued to be made believable in any arena, nevermind boxing.

At 140 minutes Warrior is far too long and could easily benefit from trimming half an hour. The string of fights at the end reel on endlessly, but thankfully the much-anticipated battle between the brothers is worth the wait. Crucially, Nolte’s Paddy disappears for much of the end as the fighting takes over, and the film is weaker for marginalising it’s most interesting character and actor.  A final freeze frame ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered, while at the same time providing a typically neat Hollywood ending by avoiding any aftermath.

Overall, it’s a reasonable story told reasonably well, and it’s lifted above straight to video clichéd sport film by the efforts of Hardy and Nolte particularly. Worth a look, but last year’s The Fighter ultimately beats it to the punch.

Film Rating: 3 out of 5.

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