Well-made sports films are constant reminders of how an inspiring tale can be the ultimate uplifting experience, especially if an underdog is somehow weaved into the mix. For example: a gritty uncivilized football squad from the projects that put aside adversity and overcame racial discrimination to go undefeated in the regular season, eventually winning the championship. This is a guaranteed recipe for success, mostly due in part to the essence of a broken team working together as a group.
Boxing films however, are the most introspective of the bunch. Inner turmoil and family hardships always play a part outside of the ring, and often prove to be the biggest opponents to prevail over. Look at Rocky, Raging Bull and last year’s The Fighter. There is no team when it comes to fighting; outside of your trainers and coaching staff, it’s all a mind game to be at peace with one’s self.
Warrior fits into this formulaic description a little too flawlessly, encompassing every struggle imaginable for the fighters as if they were being dotted off a checklist. But it manages to use these cliches as a proving ground for the two leads who fight to become better individuals. It’s another terrific reason why fighting films can have such a poignant impact on audiences as well as being prime contenders when Oscar season arrives.
To get this out of the way early is important, Warrior is not a boxing film; instead it goes for the more modern edge with UFC fighting. It’s a smart decision because boxing is a limited sport, and plus, it’s just not as hip anymore. The combat in Warrior is brutal and lean, mixing up punches with deadly kicks and submission holds.
Nothing is held back in terms of scope and technique. In its entirety, the film covers every facet of the MMA world so well that newcomers and seasoned vets of the game will appreciate the realistic approach. This is a complete alternative to boxing in a ring; where a cage is the setting for frantic, constantly changing fights that most of the time end in knockouts. Warrior benefits from this change of surrounding similar to that of a new paint job over an endlessly reusable machine; just like that it’s fresh again.
The film’s plot design is equally ingenious when it comes to updating a recycled tale. Two brothers, torn apart by family and conflicting personalities, enter a UFC tournament and are set on a collision course for a heated reunion; except their way of settling things is trying to knock one another out cold. But it’s the journey to that point of impact, where Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) train and grow to understand what they are both fighting for, that’s where the film shines.
This involves forgiving their father, who’s played by an exceptional Nick Nolte, and owning up to a lot of pent up strain forced upon them from the other sibling. It’s all typical family-drama situations and issues that are touched upon during daytime soap operas, but it’s the actors who pull the material off so convincingly.
Every character involved is handled with maturity and a great deal of care, from Brendan’s devoted wife (Jennifer Morrison) to his aggressively encouraging trainer (Frank Grillo). No one is given the short shaft here, especially Nolte. He makes his aging former boxer a broken man who knows he failed mutually as a positive role model and as a father to his two boys.
Nolte underplays his gruff overbearing personalities of the past for a more grounded performance that ends up being sympathetic due to his dragging remorse. It’s a great supporting job for Nolte and another great addition to his evolving resume.
A film centered on two brothers vying for redemption with the other relies almost solely upon their heavy shoulders. It’s further crucial when the story has them pounding other giant sized men as if they were bags of meat waiting to thaw. Warrior supports two actors who go beyond the distance required for a sports film of this nature. Hardy and Edgerton are both fully believable as UFC fighters and there’s no visible or physical sign that they couldn’t handle being in the caged ring.
What makes their performances so worthwhile is the disconnection between the two; it sets them apart as individuals with different agendas but a common end goal. Edgerton is a soft-hearted school teacher and family man who truly enjoys spending time at home just as much as he does educating kids at work.
The relationship between Brendan and his students is a nice touch; it’s an example of how Warrior elevates itself above being a sentimental farce and settles for a more established tone as a whole. There is no turmoil at his workplace to enhance his daily struggle, he’s a good teacher and therefore they respect and listen to him.
Hardy is almost a polar opposite of Edgerton. A rough soldier of duty who has a vigorous attitude that translates perfectly into the world of UFC fighting. He seems to be more of an emotional nutcase than Brendan and has a great deal of withheld aggression towards certain family issues. Hardy is a lumbering giant who dwarves Edgerton when they finally come face to face, but that’s how Tommy is meant to be portrayed compared to the more nimble physique of Brendan.
These are two brothers, although seamlessly unlike, who together share a bond that carries over through endless resistance. This is why the ending of Warrior will have audiences standing in cheer. The climax is exciting and unpredictable but also a terrific emotional resolution for every character in the film. Most importantly, the troubled brotherhood between Brendan and Tommy finally comes to a heartfelt and rewarding conclusion. Hardy and Edgerton deserve most of the praise since their performances are essential to Warrior being such a moving picture.
Sports films that are the complete package of exhilaration and authentic intention rarely come close to the efforts that Warrior achieves. It’s the real deal; a power punch to the gut that delivers on all fronts as a physical and emotional tour de force. With an excellent cast that is complemented by two fantastic lead actors, this is a film that is guaranteed to be a hit with all age groups and likely to be on the Oscar radar. With all the garbage coming out in the last few weeks it’s reassuring to find a movie that doesn’t pull any punches to convey a great story with incredibly powerful performances.