“Warrior”: a film review and genre analysis

You will cry and cheer and cry again watching “Warrior” directed by Gavin O’Connor. Why it was not advertised more when it was released in 2011, and why it wasn’t up for more awards, I will never know. This film, as it says on the DVD box cover, is in fact “as powerful and unforgettable as Rocky”. If 2008 got the incredible “The Wrestler” by Darren Aronofsky (with Mickey Rorke) and if 2010 got the emotional “The Fighter” by David O. Russell (with Walhberg and Bale), then 2011 stands proud as completing the trifecta of must-see fighting movies; truly three of the best since Rocky.

What is refreshing about Warrior is that it is not boxing or kung-fu, but UFC fighting—mixed martial arts. Sponsored by TAPOUT, it is one of the better movies ever distributed by the inconsistent Lionsgate Studios; distributing and funding average or worse horror/thrillers directed and staring “nobodys”; or straight to DVD garbage. Funny thing is: Lionsgate also strangely releases a golden piece of art every now and then (i.e. Brothers, The Hunger Games, Hotel Rwanda). Somebody in their head office works miracles, the rest distribute trash. The must flip a coin for their next project.

Back to Warrior: Why these fighting-drama pictures all resurfaced at the same time doesn’t matter, and it could have had something to do with Rocky Balboa’s release in 2006. Alas, maybe it’s just that the UFC, boxing in general, and the WWE have simply become American—if not global—staples for aggressive men. It’s primal.

But these movies are more than that. They show the heart behind it all. The motivation. The heart.

Where action movies of the 1980s and 1990s in general came with a large bucket of popcorn, tons of violence and laughable situations (often with Van Damme or Seagul), they lacked strong plots and characters overall. They were two dimensional at best. Something to watch when bored for a cheap thrill. The movies listed above all fill that missing link to appeal to a wider audience and make us understand that behind these fighters are relationships—both good and bad—with families, fathers, mothers, wives, and brothers. While they are for the most part male driven stories and male dominated films, having that heart pumping deep in the films makes them accessible to women now, more so than before. And they are believable. The most important part.

No matter your sex, you see now see with important films like Cinderella Man, The Wrestler, and Warrior these that sometimes fighting comes with something more than just trying to be the best. It comes with something more than just trying to impress the girl, or beat the bad guy, or win all that dirty, beautiful prize money. These tales show us that they are people, just like us, who happen to fight. Just like Rocky or The Fighter.

Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte play sad, powerful, and fully realized characters. They make this long film (2 hrs. 20 mins.) easy to sit through. I would go watch any of their next projects in a heartbeat.

A word about the character Tommy, however, played by Tom Hardy (Inception, Wuthering Heights, The Dark Knight Rises). I’ve never felt so bad for an old man (Nick Nolte) in my life. For the entire film, Tom Hardy’s character stonewalls his father Paddy’s advances to patch things up, and you really find it hard to cheer for Tommy. The bias of the story, without question puts you Brendan’s corner (Edgerton). Brendan has a wife, kids, his life is pretty together; he has the support of his classroom where he teaches as a physics professor, and he forgave both Tommy and their father, Paddy, to both of their faces early on in the film. Tommy has none of these and did none of these. Late in the film do we discover Tommy deserted his platoon in Iraq, and by accident came across troops in trouble and got caught on video being a hero and saving lives. Irony. Even with this “save your country” sentiment, and even though he promised to send his prize money to one of the fallen “brothers” he lost from his unit, it’s still near impossible to actually want to see Tommy come out of this thing as the victor.

If the point of this film was to make it difficult for the audience to feel a dilemma between which brother to cheer for—it failed.

The father character, Paddy, picked the wrong son to train. He’s 1000 days sober, and Tommy pushes him over the edge one night, and he starts drinking again. Damn you, Tom Hardy. Paddy should have picked Joel Edgerton’s character, Brendan, because Tommy makes it abundantly clear that he wants nothing to do with his father except as a trainer and treats him like shit. While all the other characters grow in the film, Tommy never does until the end when he has a big breakthrough. We aren’t given his “story” until the third act. Touching as it was, the screenwriter could have allowed Tommy to cave in a little bit somewhere in the middle and realize he was being unreasonable. In this way, the audience may have felt that dilemma mentioned earlier and care about the brother’s equally.

This is a story about brothers and family, yes; but it’s really Brendan’s story. He’s fighting to save his house in the name of his wife and kids. Tommy is a rough son-of-a-bitch, and we are shown more scenes with him being a bastard than scenes giving us reasons to cheer for him.

Then again, people are like this. Some shells are near impossible to crack. Not every person is like a character in a fictitious film that slowly blossoms and grows, and you could easily say that the screenwriter and director did great justice by showing a real character with years of abandonment and trust issues. But the truth is that’s usually not always the most interesting film.

Character issues aside, the plot, direction, and fight scenes alone make “Warrior” one of the best action-fighter dramas of the past 35 years.

Grade: 8/10

My favorite of the genre:

  1.  Rocky (9/10)
  2.  The Fighter (9/10)
  3.  The Wrestler (8.5/10)
  4.  Warrior (8/10)
  5.  Raging Bull (8/10)
  6.  Cinderella Man (8/10)
  7. Million Dollar Baby (7/10)

So sue me for Raging Bull only being number five. You damn film elitists. Have an opinion of your own.

MH

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Filed under Best/Worst Lists, Movie Reviews

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