Mark Reviews Movies



2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gavin O'Connor

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material)

Running Time: 2:19

Release Date: 9/9/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 8, 2011

Co-writer/director Gavin O'Connor and fellow screenwriters Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman establish the archetypes—the perennial underdog looking to make and do good, the mystery man with a pained past, and the reformed screw-up desperately seeking redemption—but then, when it comes time to do something with them, the screenplay of Warrior can't follow through. These are characters painted in such broad strokes that, while the sense of their journey is there, the feeling behind it winds up lacking.

It makes some sense, then, that it all ends with (or, better, spends almost half of its time on) the all-out, few-holds-barred brawl of a mixed martial arts tournament. There, a one-time rival returns for revenge, an undefeated champion towers above and crushes the competition, and two brothers inevitably face off in the ring because one of them is too resentful to have more than one short, circular conversation with the other. Fights like these—brutal, bloody, and bone-crunching—are hard to spoil in a dramatic sense (though it should be noted that O'Connor nearly does wreck the tension of a few fights with the inclusion of a pair of useless sports commentators), and, yes, once the disposable ones are out of the way, Warrior does manage to cull the primal, satisfactory power of a plucky long-shot finding the means to pummel those whom everyone assumed were better than him.

The three men—two brothers and their father—are Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Tommy (Tom Hardy), and Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte as a portrait of heartbreak). The sons have avoided their father for over a decade after his violent, drunken behavior ripped their family apart when the boys were still teenagers. Tommy left with his mother out West and now takes up her last name. He returns home to Pittsburgh to manipulate the old man, looking forward to his thousandth day of sobriety, into training him for the upcoming MMA tournament in Atlantic City with a $5 million purse.

Brendan lives in Philadelphia, where he works as a high school science teacher, is married to Tess (Jennifer Morrison), and has two young daughters. He and his wife work three jobs between them, he tells a phonily sympathetic banker, but they simply cannot keep up with their mortgage payments. In a few weeks, their house will go into foreclosure.

The solution, he figures, is simple, and he begins seeking fights for cash. He reasons with his wife that he can make as much money in one night of fighting as he could working as a bouncer at the same bar where the contest is being held; after all, these aren't professionals—just guys who watch too much professional MMA on television. When Brendan gets a chance to enter the Atlantic City competition, her logic is inarguable: He'll be in the ring with the people those amateurs have been watching.

O'Connor, Tambakis, and Dorfman ensure everyone here is a sympathetic presence, though it's a tougher role for Tommy to fill. Brendan's pride in avoiding bankruptcy or a menial work is understandable; Tommy, whose enigmatic past eventually comes forward after scenes at a military base in Iraq and involving a phone call to a war widow (Vanessa Martinez) in Texas, is proud to the point of destructive. While Brendan is running toward something, Tommy is running from something (Paddy, then, is spinning his wheels hoping that someone will just walk to him). The revelation of his past is a manipulation to garner some semblance of compassion for him (Even though he has little to none to offer to anyone else), and the transparent way in which the screenplay dismisses those concerns once the climax passes solidifies it. A scene in which Paddy falls off the wagon after Tommy's cruelty toward him—leading the son to hold his father like child in his arms—lends more depth to Tommy's character than any of the secrets that hold the key to his motivation.

The movie avoids these conflicted relationships as much as possible, leaving the brothers to stew in their unresolved issues until the fighting begins. O'Connor directs these sequences with a furious urgency that even, after some time, overcomes the lazy narrative crutch of the sports announcers on hand and their inane, expositional commentary. Note the difference between their babbling (It's really just noise) and an equally repetitive line of background from Brendan's trainer (Frank Grillo) to his fighter: "If you don't win this match, you don't have a house," he says, like a quick jab to the gut.

It's very basic stuff O'Connor works with here, and Warrior fulfills the predetermined requirements for this sort of story. The characters, though, are constantly hinting at something beyond the basics, and it's a longing the movie declines to explore further than a simple acknowledgement.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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