Enough of Boxing films already. Warrior brings us to the world of Mixed Martial Arts, which has been around for years, but never really making it to a notable big screen interpretation save for the Hong Kong film Flashpoint starring Donnie Yen taking down a string of bandits led by Collin Chou in the film's climatic finale. Perhaps its more contemporary slant meant a little less understanding of the art to effectively bring it to the cinemas, but Gavin O'Connor's film will open doors for MMA to work, and work well.
Structurally it adopts from the many boxing films already out there where you know that bouts alone do not make a meaningful, moving film, without that degree of humanity and adversity, especially if coming from within family. providing avenues for some deep rooted family estranged ties to be addressed along the way. The story by O'Connor and Cliff Dorfman recognizes this key point, and stripped away of its violence, it's this emotional tussle the characters have to face up to that's more daunting than beefy opponents in the ring, providing Warrior its very crucial heart that keeps the film alive and pumping from the get go.
Tom Hardy bulks up for this role and his next as Bane in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, and plays Tommy Conlon, a mean badass of a soldier who had deserted his comrades and made his way to his father's home, whom we learn is a no good drunk during Tommy's formative years, and hence comes the resentment. Needing a place to crash and then grudgingly engaging his dad's help to train him for an upcoming MMA tournament, Tom Hardy owned this role in providing that gruff exterior who has to make compromises in his life, and basically living with the enemy and with a closet full of skeletons that threaten to burst open as his profile becomes larger and more prominent given the public tournament.
Then there's his brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a physics teacher and once MMA exponent whose soaring bills to pay to sustain a family led him to go back to moonlighting in underground bouts, much to the chagrin of his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison), which is understandable since getting injured or killed, regardless of his assurances, would leave the family very much exposed and weakened. But one's paymaster is always extremely cautious about having employees moonlight on the side, and a choice has to be made whether to drop his interest totally, or decide to go serious with it especially with a five million dollar carrot dangling at the end of a large tournament known as Sparta, where winner takes all and each brother having their own reasons to have a crack at it.
So you pretty much know how this is set up for the final act, but trust me the journey, and not the destination, is what Warrior excelled in, with wonderful powerhouse performances put in by Hardy, Edgerton and Nick Nolte, who plays their father now in his twilight years and hoping very much for his sons' forgiveness. This three way relations form the emotional crux of the film without which Warrior would have limped. With Hardy's and Nolte's middle act focused much on their training montage, Edgerton's character development piece was the more uplifting of the lot, and setting up the underdog role quite brilliantly as you'd soon find yourself rooting for him not to have his livelihood and lifestyle destroyed, putting himself forward for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The fight scenes during the Sparta tournament are what made this film stand out as far as action is concerned, providing that no holds barred front row seats as exponents slug it out in brutal fashion, each scheming, grappling, punching and kicking their way to an opponent's submission, or knock out. There are a lot of gladiatorial sport films out there, but Warrior had designed and crafted sequences that don't employ too much bullshit techniques used to cover up the lack of true ability. It is as convincing as it gets here, and you're bound to reel and feel for the fighters.
But for all of its bite in the action sequences, Warrior makes a fantastic balance between the need to thrill, and having a soul through its more dramatic moments, thanks to the very well written roles that the various cast members managed to deliver. Highly recommended, and going into my shortlist as one of the best the year has to offer.