Directed by Gavin O’Connor.
Starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison and Nick Nolte.
Warrior tells the story of the broken Conlon family, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Paddy (Nick Nolte), who figuratively and literally fight to repair themselves and their family.
I’ll start this review by saying that I am a little bit of a sucker for the Rocky flicks. I guess you could kind of say that boxing is the family business. I do not profess to be a massive fan of UFC/MMA, but I can appreciate that we’re witnessing a sport that is cultivating fighters who are the best who have ever lived. I found myself hooked into Warrior almost from the moment that it began. Despite how it’s been billed – showing the opposition of Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton – this is very much a film that has three protagonist characters.
Firstly I’ll start with Nick Nolte. Here I’ll say that while he’s not the lead of the film I found myself feeling like this role is equivalent to Mickey Rourke’s role in The Wrestler. His performance is loaded with everything that the audience can know about his acting and public personas. He has a lot to do in Warrior and his arc is reeks of desperation to salvage a connection with his sons. Paddy (Nolte) is a former volatile alcoholic whose domestic violence drove one of his sons (Tommy [Hardy]) and wife away from him. When we arrive into his life he’s gentle and subdued but subtly, Paddy exudes an intense temper; he’s tortured and it’s etched on his face. His former titanic power and presence on screen informs and enhances his characterisation. There is something totally disarming and mellifluous about his gravelly voice that magnifies his presence. His performance powerful, redemptive and heart-breaking – **Predicition** – it’s easily going to garner a Best Supporting Actor nod at a number of ceremonies this year.
Next I’ll move to Tommy (Hardy), who is beginning to look like a method chameleon of the highest order. Hardy merges the likes of De Niro and Oldman together in this performance; his physical presence is astounding. His powerful frame jumps out of the screen. He’s the brutal ‘striker’ fight style who intimidates his opponents. And as a character he’s also another fractured and tortured soul – unable to forgive his fathers past indiscretions. He’s antagonistic and one to goad confrontation and intimidate – there a quite a few scenes that he convincingly strikes fear into people and you’re in the audience feeling a similar sense of intimidation. He’s laconic, hard, and distant and he’s riveting to watch. But not to be outdone he’s got a story (that I won’t spoil) that informs his actions and we’re allowed glimpses of this leading to the films climax. He’ll be a memorable / quotable character for a lot of people watching this film.
Last and certainly not least – the everyman underdog Brendan, played by Joel Edgerton. He’s a fighter in every sense of the word. He’s not got the natural talent of his brother Tommy, he’s not the favourite child, he doesn’t earn great money – he’s the family man. He’s clawed and scraped for everything that he’s got and he doesn’t want to be given a free ride. Edgerton’s face looks like a fighters face. He’s civilized, subtle but fiercely determined. Brendan’s character rides the underdog arc and Edgerton navigates it well. Unlike the boxing film, the UFC/MMA fighter can have an everyman frame (especially grapplers) and he convinces as a contrast to Hardy’s mountainous frame. You really only have to see Edgerton across from Hardy in a tense dialogue scene to see that despite his smaller frame, his unwavering determination matches Hardy’s presence – which is no small feat.
Gavin O’Connor’s direction is phenomenal. I want to pronounce and move away from one of the most stunning and affective devices that was used – O’Connor allows the audience to hear the audiobook of Moby Dick that Nolte’s character is constantly listening to alongside moments of the film to inform your viewing. It’s a fascinating and penetrating element that’s probably worth greater examination and detail (which can most certainly happen once the film is released on DVD). The gritty aesthetic of the film works well in contrasting the warmer and sunnier elements of Edgerton’s home life. Hardy and Nolte’s lives are kept dark, desolate – like a vessel at sea being battered with rain. And it would be remiss of me not to talk about the violence right? Well there are always going to be arguments about how authentic the fighting is with aficionados of the sport – and that’s not me. As a prolific movie and boxing viewer I was struck and affected by the portrayal of the fighting. The fights were frenetic but powerful – the sound design was used greatly to punctuate the violence with the sounds of flesh being pounded; with bodies slamming against canvas and mesh; and blood curdling crushes and breaks. I was wincing and tensing in my seat.
Warrior is the UFC/MMA fan’s answer to Rocky. No; it’s more than that. It brings together the Rocky underdog, mashes it with The Fighter and adds a sizable dose of The Wrestler. For me it is vastly better than The Fighter and is easily in my top 10 films of the year. Get along to see fans of UFC/MMA, or fans of really great performances, direction and story.
Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the castleco-op.com.
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