As with many of the audience who reads the reviews we write, I have been to a ton of movies. But most of the time when I go, I go on the second or perhaps third week of release. Rarely do I ever go the first week. Even rarer is when I get invited to a screening of a movie before it even opens. Well, on August 31st, 2011, I got the chance to see the new feature from Lionsgate entitled The Warrior which opens September 9th, 2011. Let us see what it had to offer.
A train rolls by, a factory opens for the day’s work, and the day is upon us. We are in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Paddy Conlon (played by Nick Nolte) comes out of church, pops in an audio book and drives home. When he gets home, he sees the image of his son, Tommy (played by Tom Hardy) on the porch steps with a bottle in his hands. His son has not been home in many years.
They speak very few words about each other but we learn quite a bit about them. Paddy was not a very good father. He tore his family apart with his alcoholism and it appears he abused the mother who is no longer living. However, since then he has been trying to get sober and is almost 1,000 days without taking a drink. His son has tales too, of a youth where he was wrestling champion and of time spent in the armed forces. But Tom also has a brother.
Brendan Colon (played by Joel Edgerton) lives in Philadelphia with his wife Tess (played by Jennifer Morrison) and his two children. They are having a birthday party today for one of the kids who like to draw on daddy’s face. He is such the princess. But Brendan’s life is not the pretty picture painted on his face. He is a physics teacher by day and simply not making enough money to make ends meet. So, Brendan has to turn to his past for extra dough, MMA Fighting.
Once upon a time, Brendan was an UFC fighter but only so-so. However, in toughman contests setup in strip club parking lots, he is way more qualified than the MMA wanna-bes and can make $500 a night for two hours of work. His wife disapproves but knows deep down that they need the money. However, the whole dynamic changes when the North Hills High School finds out that he is moonlighting as a fighter. He is suspended and it appears that his life is on the ropes.
Meanwhile, Tommy joins Colt’s Gym, a local training facility. After signing a waiver, he steps into the ring against Mad Dog (played by Erik Apple), #1 contender to the middleweight UFC championship. A simple sparring session turns brutal as Tommy knocks Mad Dog straight out. The whole thing is recorded and soon becomes a sensation on Youtube. The owner of the gym, Colt Boyd (played by Maximiliano Hernandez) soon seeks out the kid.
There is a MMA tournament coming named Sparta. In a unique format, the sixteen best middleweights will fight for five million dollars in Atlantic City. We soon find out that Tommy makes the tournament and gets Paddy to be his trainer. Mad Dog is in there too, and so is Russian sensation, Koba (played by Kurt Angle). Following a very fortunate turn of events, Brendan is given a chance to compete as well. Sixteen people, there can be only one winner. Who exactly will that be that lucky warrior?
The director of this movie is Gavin O’ Conner. I had immensely enjoyed his work in Miracle and to some extent these movies draw some parallels. There are really some great performances in this movie. Nick Nolte is simply fantastic. His portrayal of the broken down father trying to gain respect from his boys is heartwarming and special. Joel Edgerton does an excellent job as Brendan who comes across as a likeable character who one can appreciate.
Tom Hardy does a good job as Tommy and even though he is hard to like, you can fully appreciate the multiple layers of his personality. The rest of the actors and actresses create a nice harmony and provide a pleasurable backdrop to the overall story. On the surface, the movie’s story is very strong but eventually fades into the backdrop of the tournament. The tournament however is where I found myself in my deepest criticality. Specifically, the fights themselves.
I’ve watched wrestling for almost thirty years and MMA style fighting for over a decade. I know styles or what I am used to seeing. The tournament could be best described as a little bit over the top. The fights involve a lot of throws and actual wrestling maneuvers such as a German suplex or a Powerbomb. If you have watched UFC fighting, there is a lot of striking and submission style fighting. Throws are pretty rare and certainly not as flashy as the tournament wanted to project.
It would also be too easy to attack a Kurt Angle who is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. His performance was fine, he was a menacing beast. He was not the issue. I also felt that some of the fights, particularly those with Brendan went a little too long with the punishment. Most referees had that been a real UFC fight would have stopped the fight with the amount of punishment he took. Also, when a fighter gets a broken arm (I am not going to spoil who it is), they stop the fight. They do not let it continue for 2 more rounds.
A word of warning and it is difficult for me to say but do not watch the trailer to this movie. It gives away a crucial part of the plot that really should be withheld from the viewer’s mind until they have seen the movie. It is sort of cliché and expected but the real draw of the movie is the heartwarming story of two brothers. That is the focus here and also the relationship between the two brothers and their father who is seeking redemption.
I will say it again, Nick Nolte is amazing. This is a borderline Oscar worthy performance (supporting actor) but most critics will probably fail to recognize him. The other two leads do a great job revealing multiple layers of their own personality. The only problem here is the fights which are okay, but not realistic enough to be fantastic. However, in my opinion this does not distract from the movie and I give this a solid recommendation. Enjoy the fights for what they are, but appreciate the film for the heartwarming story.