Warrior [Blu-Ray] Gavin O'Conner

Warrior [Blu-Ray] Gavin O'Conner
Mixed Martial Arts now has its Rocky. Why Gavin O'Connor's story of two estranged brothers reunited in the cage wasn't more publicly lauded or positioned as Oscar-bait most likely boils down to a lack of an iconic theme or gimmicky meat punching. Warrior is more concerned with the emotional complexity of its characters, their relationships and displaying the extremely physical sport as authentically as possible. Think gut punches administered instead of heartstrings tugged. Tom Hardy (Inception) has the simmering rage of a wounded animal as Tommy, showing up at his father's place for a chat after years of military service. While their history isn't explicitly stated, it's swiftly made clear that Tommy's dad, Paddy (Nick Nolte), was an abusive alcoholic. A former high school wrestling phenom, Tommy decides to get into MMA to make some cash and enlists his father to train him again, as long as he doesn't try to seek forgiveness or otherwise dredge up their painful past. In contrast to Tommy's gradually revealed motives and background, the filmmakers lay elder brother Brendan's (Joel Edgerton, Animal Kingdom) cards on the table straight away. Brendan is a college physics professor running into financial trouble with his mortgage payments. To supplement his income, he takes scrappy MMA bouts in parking lots. Through separate but equally compelling circumstances, Tommy and Brendan end up competing for a massive prize purse at the world's biggest MMA tournament, Sparta. Being a masculine sports movie, clichés (like the threat of an undefeated foreign fighter) are present, but handled with grace. Designing the obligatory training montage as a series of interlocking frames is a good way of both cramming in two fighters' worth of shots and acknowledging that such sequences can be narratively disruptive by making it intentionally so. Both Hardy and Edgerton give award-worthy performances, but it's Nick Nolte's turn as the broken, repentant father who knows he won't find forgiveness that'll most likely get a nod. As effective and tastefully understated as the family drama is, the authentically staged fight scenes propel the film towards an increasingly exhilarating climax. Aside from the two stars, the rest of the combatants are legitimate MMA competitors and an almost unrecognizable Kurt Angle (of WWE and Olympic fame). The extensive special features put a lot of emphasis on the fight training, especially in the making-of documentary, which, in this case, really is more like a documentary in its attention to detail than a typical desultory production feature. World-class trainer Greg Jackson first shows up here, but the fascinating renaissance man of fighting is also subject to his own feature, "Philosophy in Combat," in which he discusses instructing the on-screen trainer and his mission to uncover the underlying principles common to all artistic disciplines. "Brother vs. Brother" is a comparison between finished fight footage and pre-visualization shots with actors and stunt doubles. There's a single deleted scene with optional commentary, a gag reel mostly featuring the goofing of Bryan Callen (MADtv) as the fight announcer, feature commentary with the filmmakers and Joel Edgerton and "Full Contact," an enhanced viewing mode that sees Gavin O'Conner lead a discussion of the film with various cast and crew members while it plays in the bottom corner of the screen. Finally, "Simply Believe" is a tribute to Charles "Mask" Lewis Jr., co-founder of MMA clothing company Tapout, and all-around inspirational community builder who died in a car accident just prior to the film's start. A mix of archival footage and interviews with his many friends give a little look at his life, philosophy and his integral role in opening the door to the MMA world for O'Connor. Empathetic viewers might well tear up during footage of his eulogy. With features of this quality supporting what is quite possibly the best film ever made about men punching out their emotions in a sanctioned sporting event, Warrior is essential viewing. (Alliance)