Warrior (Gavin O’Connor) 2011

Warrior follows a family consisting of brothers Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Tommy (Tom Hardy) and father Paddy (Nick Nolte).  Brendan is a physics teacher who is upside down on his house and enters in an MMA tournament to keep his family from being out on the street.  Tommy is back from the war in Iraq and also enters the tournament (with the help of his trainer father) to send the money to the family of a soldier who died.  All three of them though, are trying to work through the damage Paddy (now a recovering alcoholic) did earlier on in their lives.

I don’t know if I am immediately going off on a tangent or jumping ahead in the review.  That being said, I don’t know if there is some standard of reviews so I suppose you’ll have to indulge me.  Before going to see this movie I discussed this with a few other people and their reactions kind of went in the same direction.  That being “Eh, I’m not too big into MMA“ or “Oh, I didn’t know you were that big into MMA“.  I have (on a similar note) heard reviewers talking about how much this movie will sell people on MMA or how accurate it is in its depiction of the sport.  I suppose I am speaking for myself when I say I don’t really go to sports movies necessarily because I love a sport, nor have I ever been sold on a sport by seeing a movie.  I can fairly confidently say there is not a sports movie that is both completely accurate in its depiction of the sport and sold me on it.  For example, Rocky is a great movie but I know it is both a poor representation of boxing and works because it is a great story and not because of the sport.  Same goes for other great sports themed movies ranging from such sports as golf, baseball, and even poker.  Now the reason the mvoies are not accurate representations of the sport is because it is impossible to take long (or what others classify as boring) sports and turn them into action packed 90 minute films without taking some dramatic license with them.  That is completely reasonable and it is not why I necessarily get bent out of shape over how the sport is because in a way it doesn’t matter.  To me, I care about the story and the characters and if you do that well I am happy.  With that very long tangent out of the way, I will go on to say Warrior for the most part succeeds in presenting a good story and compelling characters.

I think the reason most of Warrior works is because the writing and directing does enough to get effective tension and drama without crossing the line into ridiculous melodrama.  We are given very simple (but also compelling) reasons to follow our two leads.  Brendan wants to make sure his family doesn’t go homeless and Tommy wants to help out one of his comrades from Iraq by giving money to his widow.  There is family drama but its not shoved down our throats because it is a side effect of the main plot and it in itself is not driving the action.  These characters are effectively stuck together for a short time and are trying to deal with the biggest issues just to maintain some semblance of sanity.  This may be a spoiler so if you don’t want to know anything just skip ahead to the next paragraph.  The finale of this movie isn’t some schaltzy “we now love and forgive one another and live happily ever after“ type of ending.  I get more the feeling of “Well…I kind of tolerate your presence now.  We’ll start with that.“ type of reconciliation.

The movie also does enough to effectively build the underdog storyline of the movie.  Our protagonist doesn’t have an easy road as he has to go through the unbeatable Koba (our Fedor stand in for the movie) and his brother.  When we near the end the writers make the rivalry between the brothers very interesting.  Once again, the wins while improbable are not unbelievable as anyone familiar with MMA can tell you than on any given day someone can be upset in a match.  The action for the fights are very good.  As I mentioned before, there is always some element of theatricality in sports movies.  In this case there are no judges decisions and there are some decidedly pro-wrestling moves thrown in to make it look more intense.  But none of it is so over the top that it takes you out of the movie.  If I were going to judge this movie on how well it sells the sport I would have my reservations.  I don’t like the fact that for the most part they portray it as some illegal underground fight thing or the fact they really push these fights could kill people.  I understand it is for dramatic effect, but even that was too ridiculous.

The acting in the movie is very good.  I have not heard of Joel Edgerton but he is given the lead role and he does a good job.  Nick Nolte also does a good job in selling some of the weaker writing.  Tom Hardy actually does not get a lot to do but that is due to his character and the writing than on him.

Warrior is not a film that does anything new, nor is it some new benchmark standard of the genre.  I actually laughed when on a commercial some reviewer called it better than Rocky.  But while Warrior doesn’t do anything new, what it does it does very well.  The writing sets up a compelling underdog story and gives us interesting characters to root for.  The action is exciting and the actors do a good job in pulling off the material.  If I had a negative, it would be that the first half of the movie was a little sluggish for me, but things balanced out in the second half when the tournament began.  This isn’t a review that has to be qualified for people that like MMA or not.  If you like inspirational sports movies or movies about underdogs then you will like it.  While not groundbreaking, Warrior is a very good film.

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