September 6, 2011
Director: Gavin O’Connor │ Runtime: TBC
Review by Delme Stephenson
I’m going to get straight to the point: ‘Warrior’ is a lean mean fighting machine of a film that deserves an audience and definitely gets my two thumbs up. After the well crafted ‘The Fighter’ I didn’t really expect there to be space for another brothers-at-war sports drama. Well I was wrong. ‘Warrior’ does have a somewhat improbable scenario and follows the clichés of the sports underdog genre, but that aside it has truly amazing performances and excellent production. Not only does this feature pack a raw physical punch, it grapples you to the floor with genuine heartfelt emotion.
‘Warrior’ follows two primary narrative strands that intertwine and eventually coalesce. Paddy Colon (Nick Nolte) is a reformed alcoholic who is greeted on his doorstep one evening by his estranged youngest son Tommy (Tom Hardy). From the outset their father-son relationship is evidently strained. However regardless of the past Tommy, a former marine, wants his father to train him for a very lucrative and prestigious mixed martial arts tournament (MMA) called Sparta. In the other corner we have Paddy’s oldest son, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) who is also estranged from his father. Brendan is happily married to Tess (Jennifer Morrison), has two beautiful kids and is a high school physics teacher. However he is struggling to make ends meet due to the crippling medical costs of his daughter's previous illness. He soon finds himself with no option except to get back into the ring. All roads led to Sparta and the bright lights of Atlantic City - where the fractured psyches of the Colon clan collide.
Joel Edgerton’s and Tom Hardy’s profiles are clearly on the ascendancy and after watching this feature you can see why. Together they contribute two blistering and perfectly measured performances. Both actors along with director/ producer/ screenwriter Gavin O’Connor and stunt coordinator JJ Perry have clinically mapped out the mentality and physicality of their characters. Both men have been mistreated by their alcoholic father and have dealt with that and their mother's death in different ways. Tommy Colon is full of rage and pent-up frustration whilst Brendan is controlled and sensitive. Hardy impressively swaggers around the screen filled with loathing and anger which he turns on and off like a kitchen tap. His shoulders are exceptionally large, his frame is pure intimidating muscle mass and his fighting style mirrors his inner turmoil. The very physical MMA tournament is part of a psychological release for the character and Hardy captures Tommy's intensity extremely well. It is to Edgerton’s credit that he is able to establish such a believable winning personality. He doesn’t have Hardy’s rage or his hulking menace, but he imbues his character with just the right amount of confidence, self-doubt and desperation. It’s quite a heady mix.
While ‘Warrior’ essentially combines two underdog stories into one film and provides themes common to that genre - both characters have something to prove and something to overcome. However one of the fascinating aspects of the story is that these brothers both shared a past of extreme trauma and yet have dealt with it in their adult lives in contrastingly different ways. Any underdog sports drama worth its price has to invest in its characters and ‘Warrior’ succeeds in this area. The third pivotal character is that of Nick Nolte’s Paddy Colon. The actor is magnificent and his performance is nothing less than Oscar worthy. Nolte essays a man that tore his family apart years ago and now wants another chance at redemption. The actor puts in a powerful, desperately vulnerable performance which I hope is remembered during the awards season.
One of Gavin O’Connor’s achievements lies in the fact that he is able to balance our affections for both of the Colon brothers. Over the film’s running time we are able to understand what drives both men and what divides them. The film allows them time to develop while delivering us well choreographed and edited MMA fight scenes that are both intense and brutal in nature. However first and foremost Warrior is a family drama which happens to be set against the MMA world and not vice-versa.
Essentially, ‘Warrior’ is a well made and directed film. It has three fantastic lead performances and many really good supporting ones. I’ve never seen a MMA film shot as intensely as this, and to be honest I do not recall ever really being introduced to this world in this particular style. The film doesn’t reinvent the wheel of the sports underdog genre and was unfortunately beaten to the punch by ‘The Fighter’ which many will compare it to, however this feature as stated has more than enough going for it to be able to hold its own.
The real question you have to ask yourself is when the time comes - and it will come - whose corner are you going to be in?