- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Bob Westal
aking an unusually respectful approach to the new sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), "Warrior" refurbishes material we've seen in the "Rocky" films and a thousand other populist dramas about ordinary people making their mark. Fortunately, journeyman director and co-writer Gavin O'Connor does a good enough job in rearranging the usual bits and pieces that his film has a decent shot at grabbing an audience. It's just a shame that, when the punching and kicking really gets started during the film's final third, the 140-minute tale goes flabby due to an uncomfortable mix of sincere populist enthusiasm and artistic ambition. Co-written with Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman, "Warrior" is frequently engaging, even somewhat moving, but it wouldn't last a round in my own version of the UFFC (Ultimate Fight Film Challenge).
Often feeling like two separate screenplays that have been sutured together, "Warrior" is the story of two very different estranged brothers who wind up playing the same brutal game. Brendan (Joel Edgerton, "Animal Kingdom") is a 30-something former scrapper who has turned his back on his dysfunctional past and the family he believes had failed him. He loves high school girlfriend-turned-wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison), and his two daughters (Capri Thomas and Lexi Cowan) beyond all reason, the way a good husband and dad should. He'd be thrilled to earn his living solely as his school's coolest science teacher, but his determination to keep up with an underwater mortgage makes that impossible and seriously stresses his marriage. Younger brother Tommy (Tom Hardy, "Inception") is an alienated Iraq war veteran who seemingly has no place else to go in life than fighting. He wants no other trainer than Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), the formerly abusive, recovering alcoholic father he despises but prefers to a stranger. As sure as "Star Wars: A New Hope" had to climax with a big space battle and "The Sound of Music" had to end with a song, "Warrior" will end with both brothers beating the living crap out of each with a gazillion dollars at stake and tears freely flowing.
"Warriors" is preposterous and messy, but it preposterousness and mess come packaged with grade-A Irish-American blarney and bone-crunching action. The early fight sequences are well-staged by carnage choreographer J.J. Perry and, for the first two thirds or so, strong acting carries it along as the story remains on a more or less realistic keel. Edgerton is a seriously likable old-fashionable leading man, while Hardy, who hardly says a word for long stretches, elicits our sympathy even as he risks self-parody by chewing the scenery with every part of his body that's not his mouth. Nick Nolte does more talking, and no one can emote with more relish than the ultra-grizzled acting veteran who has been playing this sort of damaged character since he first made his name as troubled boxer Tom Jordache on TV's "Rich Man, Poor Man" some three and half decades ago.
The problems here boil down, as filmmaking problems usually do, to a somewhat faulty script and a half-baked directorial approach. Getting the two brothers into the ring together for the final super-momentous battle in an Atlantic City mega-tournament requires more and more contrivances. More and more, director O'Connor's exaggerated naturalistic style, underlined by the classically grainy photography of Masanobu Takayanagi, clashes with his need to give his audience more and more of the fantasy and wish-fulfillment they might want.
Ultimately, at least for this over-sophisticated viewer, "Warrior" eventually collapses under the weight of its need to throw everything and kitchen sink realism at the audience. When, late in the story, both brothers must defeat an inexpressive and nearly superhuman Russian fighter (pro wrestler Kurt Angle), it's impossible not to think of Dolph Lundgren as the Soviet near-automaton from the affectionately mocked "Rocky IV." The family featured in Gavin O'Connor's film may ultimately come together, but the blend of realism and fantasy in "Warrior" is not much more functional than the Karsdashians.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release of “Warrior” is a great example of how every studio should treat their best movies. In addition to a feature-length enhanced viewing mode that offers up interviews and behind-the-scenes footage alongside the film, the two-disc set also includes an audio commentary with director Gavin O’Connor, co-writer Anthony Tambakis, editor John Gilroy and star Joel Edgerton, as well featurettes, a deleted scene and a gag reel. The making-of documentary “Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life” is the obvious highlight, but there’s also a cool breakdown of the final fight (“Brother vs. Brother”) that compares storyboards and pre-viz footage to the finished scene, a lengthy discussion with MMA trainer Greg Jackson and actor Frank Grillo about MMA strategy, and a touching tribute to Tapout co-founder Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr., who tragically died shortly before filming began.