Published Sep 08, 2011The realm of mixed martial arts is still an ephemeral one, where upstart fighters can quickly rise through the ranks if they prove their mettle with a combination of brute strength, mental agility, endurance and sheer insanity.
A sport that generates millions of dollars in revenue, yet is still fighting for mainstream acceptance, is full of inherent contradictions, and in Warrior, it acts as a metaphor for the fractured family life of two brothers, both teetering on the edge between respectability and oblivion.
Beginning with the arrival of broken down, AWOL Marine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) at his father's (Nick Nolte) Philadelphia childhood home, Warrior sets up a dichotomy of brothers escaping the past. On the other side is Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a regular-guy schoolteacher caught in the capital crunch and facing the loss of his home. Both are scrappy Irish fighters with chequered pasts, and both are essentially forced into returning to their fighting ways to resolve their desperate situations, entering a winner-take-all MMA tournament for a five million dollar purse.
Okay, before the eye-rolling starts, know that Warrior is a straightforward, classically told family story with an ending that can be spotted from the first reel, so the key with a movie like this is how it reaches its destination. Hardy and Edgerton are both solid, bringing subtlety where it's sorely needed to the yin-yang of two brothers torn apart. Nick Nolte is excellent as their formerly drunken dad, adding a sad-eyed nuance to the kind of role he was born to play, especially as he edges into to the twilight of his career.
From his sternness to the contrition of an ex-addict to his wild-eyed (and haired) leap off the wagon of sobriety, Nolte is a joy to watch and master of every scene he's in. As things reach a fever pitch and our battling brothers advance through the tournament, director Gavin O'Connor does a good job keeping things moving at an entertaining pace, making sure the comparatively wee Irish brothers beating down men twice their size feels at least somewhat realistic.
Warrior is a smart film, but it's also a fairy tale for dudes where, despite the bloody struggles, the pieces fall together neatly. It's nearly impossible to run a new spin on the sports film, and Warrior isn't trying to re-invent the wheel. Yet what it does with its pieces makes for bold, gritty entertainment. (Alliance)