Most people know me to be a pretty big fight fan (with the exception of boxing which has gone tremendously downhill since the eighties). I love wrestling (even though it is scripted) and watch a great deal of Mixed martial arts, better known as MMA. The thrill of combat, the fascination of pure athleticism and talent is what straps me to my seat and never lets me go. I had the immense pleasure to catch the movie Warrior before it hit theaters and now I get to visit it a second time on DVD.
(*Author’s Note: Most of this is borrowed from my review when I watched it in theaters. However, I have added a few notes along with video/audio/extras. Enjoy.*)
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.
The video is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. This is filmed in Pittsburgh and is exactly the backdrop they needed for the movie. It is a working class town and we get a lot of shots of trains, mills and well-worn houses. The detail is great with the ability to see all major points of definition in the characters’ faces. When it moves to the fights, beads of sweat, blood and scaring can be seen in detail which only adds to the realism. The only minor issue was some of the indoor talking type scenes where some pixelation could be found.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 English Dolby Digital (2.0 Mix also available). The dialog in this movie was unfortunately a little soft and I had to turn it up past normal levels. It was not just Nolte either, many of the characters seem to be recorded low and it came across a little odd. Once it moves to action, the sound is a lot crisper and the smacking and kicking comes through the speakers with much more intensity. Good mix overall, but dialog (at least for the dvd) seemed to fall a little short. Subtitles are included for English and Spanish.
- Automatic Trailers: Brothers, Expendables, Affliction and Facing Ali
- Audio Commentary with Filmmakers & Actor Joel Edgerton: The filmmakers include Director, Gavin O Connor, Anthony Tambakis and John Gilroy. With all four of these people, one would expect a pretty crowded commentary but it comes out pretty well. They discuss technical details (but do not spoil too much of the movie magic on purpose) and all of the little stories throughout the filming process. It’s entertaining and a worthy extension of the film.
- Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life Documentary 31:56: A very complete making of featurette that starts out with Gavin talking about how the brothers were brought back together through violence. They also go in-depth about the characters, in particular how they wrote the role specifically for Nolte. Then they spend some time on the fight sequences as well as taking the time to talk about training that was done with real MMA fighters.
- The Diner Deleted Scene (with optional commentary) 3:02: The filmmakers provide optional commentary. This is the first diner scene with Hardy and Nolte and was removed for various reasons. However it is a good scene and highlighted by the fact that this was done in one take. I’m telling you Oscar.
- Cheap Shots: Gag Reel 3:58: This is not a gag reel in the traditional sense. This is more of pranks and general tomfoolery on camera. A good deal of funny can be had here.
- Selected Scene on Camera Commentary with Filmmakers and Nick Nolte 13:25: This takes two of the big scenes and we get Nolte talk about Nolte. He seems not quite there for the first few minutes but he actually gets a lot more lively from about half way through the first scene and straight on into the second. Gavin is his partner in crime for the first scene while Tambakis joins in the second fray.
- Brother vs Brother: Anatomy of the Fight 11:54: Spoilers aside, this is a really cool featurette of the mentioned fight. We get storyboards, training action, and stunt work alongside the actual fight. Really fun to see how it all came together.
- Philosophy in Combat: Mixed Martial Arts Strategy 21:05: MMA Trainer Greg Jackson and friend/actor Frank Grillo spend some time in Albuquerque, New Mexico reminiscing and discussing the strategies they worked on for this film. We even get some demonstration with Greg and a very nervous looking girl while they explain moves and strategy. (I rather mount a female too if I had demonstrate moves *wink*).
- Simply Believe: A Tribute to Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr. 13:58: This movie is dedicated to the memory of Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr. who was the co-founder of Tap-Out. He was also slated to be the promoter in Warrior but died in a car accident right before filming started. This is a look back at Charles and all he did for Tap-Out and the MMA world. We get to hear from John McCarthy, Greg Jackson and many others including Skyskrape and Punkass, also from Tapout. A touching moment is also included when Gavin, the director is on stage at his funeral service. It is a very intimate look at a legend of the sport.
A word of warning about this movie but there are spoilers all over the dvd box, trailer and everything else promoting this movie. I think that is the part about the movie that baffles me the most. There is this great fictional movie and most of the plotline is destroyed before the disc even goes in the player. People want to be surprised, people usually do not pick up a new movie if they already know how it ends. There is no way the dvd/blu-ray box art should have made it to production.
But in the same breath, 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. My attitude has softened on this some (which is why I’m bumping it by half a point) and after listening to the commentary and watching the extras, I do have a greater appreciation.
The disc package is great for the most part with soft audio as its only downfall. The extras are complete and extremely comprehensive. We even get Nick Nolte on commentary for a couple of scenes which is awesome enough on its own but then we get some really meaty featurettes and a full length commentary to boot. Fantastic recommendation, I hope this movie ends up winning some kind of award, mostly for Nolte’s work. It isn’t Rocky, but it is pretty darn close.