Actors Tom Hardy (L) and Joel Edgerton pose at the premiere of Lionsgate Films' "Warrior" at the Cinerama Dome Theatre on September 6, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)more pics »The Bottom Line Should you see it? Yes.
Why? Warrior is a great underdog story featuring two of cinema's best young actors. At the heart of Gavin O'Connor's Warrior is the struggle of two men, two brothers, each fighting for their own desperate reasons. The film displays the rawness and intense violence of a sport which is the closest thing we have nowadays to the gladiator games of ancient Rome. What drives these men? What makes them want to risk their livelihoods and pummel other men in a ring?
At the highest levels, MMA is a brutal exercise. The fighters wear 4 ounce gloves and nothing else. There are rules, make no mistake, but this is not the sweet science of boxing. MMA fighters kick, knee, elbow and are generally interested in inflicting more pain than the other guy - submission is key. The more pain you inflict, the greater chance of winning. Many critics are saying Warrior doesn't rewrite the genre in any way, but it does.
There has never been a close look at MMA specifically. David Mamet's Redbelt dealt with ancillary issues surrounding an MMA fighter, but that film did not get its hands dirty. Warrior starts at the bottom and follows the two brothers as they rise to the top. There is something romantic in their struggle, something noble in their pursuit.
Tommy (Tom Hardy) fights for redemption. His troubled past has led him back home to his ex-alcoholic, ex-abusive, ex-wrestling coach father (Nick Nolte). Tommy had been away in the Marine Corps and watched his best friend die, something he takes on himself and has promised his friend's wife he'd repay. Tommy sets off to train by himself but soon enlists the help of his father. Now that he's older and calling the shots, Tommy can train and also exact some measure of control over the old man.
Tommy's brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) fights for his family. He and his wife work three jobs to make ends meet and it's not enough for them and their two young daughters. They are about to lose their house, and Brendan, now a high school physics teacher, returns to the sport he had given up years earlier. His students adore him and his classroom scenes revolve around the teachings of Isaac Newton. "Force equals mass times acceleration." Brendan is eventually suspended from teaching for moonlighting as an amateur fighter. As he faces the debt he has accrued and the family he can't disappoint, he risks it all on a winner-take-all $5 million MMA tournament, called "Sparta," where he will face the best middleweights in the sport. This includes his estranged and dangerous younger brother.
Tommy gains notoriety by dominating a well-known fighter in a sparring match at a local gym. All of his rage and anger come out in a flurry of huge punches and violent attacks. He is a hurricane, a tornado, a typhoon, all rolled into one. Brendan is the more technical fighter. He is not as big or as strong as the other guys, but he is smarter and he uses his leverage and holds to gain advantages. Destined to meet in the final match, the genius of Warrior is its unpredictability. The story is the rise of both brothers, but only one can win.
Warrior is so good because of its two stars. Hardy is a revelation as the disturbed and violent Tommy. He possesses the violence within such a character must exude. He's been fighting his entire life and has a lifetime of pain to unleash in the ring. This type of vulnerability is captivating to watch, but it must be executed. Hardy is in line to be the next great Hollywood film star. Including his amazing turn in Nicholas Winding Refn's Bronson, he has now conquered two challenging, physical roles that would have fallen apart in lesser hands. He combines the charisma of Jack Nicholson with the sheer physicality of someone like Brad Pitt.
Edgerton, who is Australian is, likewise, a hugely talented character actor who is finally gaining some attention in America thanks to this role. He dominated scenes in his previous films, The Square and Animal Kingdom. Impossible to ignore because he is so convincing, Edgerton is pitch-perfect as the good guy Brendan. His range is on full display as we first meet him having his face painted by his daughters - a stark contrast to his scenes in the MMA octagon. He is effective relating to his students as a high school teacher and he is thoroughly believable as an underdog fighter who can't possibly succeed.
Nolte also stands out as the boys' washed up father. He lives a sad, lonely life until Tommy comes back. However, the son hates his father and his motives for asking for his help are suspect. The characters are so well-developed, it's heartbreaking to watch Tommy verbally abuse his dad, but not unjust. Their relationship explodes in a somber hotel room scene that doesn't exactly spell forgiveness, but is a first step.
Gavin O'Connor co-writes and directs and has made his first real complete film. His previous movie, Pride and Glory, had some solid scenes but fell apart under a shallow story. Warrior hits on all cylinders. O'Connor doesn't use any tricks to tell the story, instead he relies on the brute physicality of his actors and choreographers to create a realistic fight film that transcends the genre. Choreographer, Masanobu Takayanagi, uses muted, dark colors to set the tone. Takayanagi has a distinct style that lends perfectly lends itself to this story. His hand held, intimate shots that he also used to drive the story in Babel, again, work perfectly here.
The script, by O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis, and Cliff Dorfman, is acutely character-driven. There's much more to the characters in Warrior than simply being fighters. Yes, MMA provides the context, but their struggles are leaps and bounds more profound than a simple MMA match. It all comes together in the final fight. This is one of the most effective scenes of its kind. Not once do you feel as if you are watching a film. Their fight is the real thing - a perfect storm of every struggle the film depicts.