You don’t knock him out, you lose the fight. Understand me? You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home.
Warrior is one the numerous good films released in 2011. But it was not amongst the surprisingly high number of great ones. There are good performances and great performances in it – interspersed with a number of mediocre and even embarrassing ones. But its main problem: It suffers from the bane of all film issues: Predictability! That said, this review begins with the most important premise: Warrior is a good movie that’s worth the 2:20 investment. Yes, it’s a long film which has its ups & downs, but the 140 minutes do not drag. There is enough excitement to keep you interested. And while this is not a boxing movie, M(ixed)M(artial)A(rts) is close enough. Sports films are notoriously campy, cheesy fare with a few exceptions – boxing films because of the single character focus (in this case, double), and a few masterpieces like Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, A League of Their Own, etc.
The great performances: Co-leading men Joel Edgerton & Tom Hardy, Brendan & his younger brother Tommy Conlon respectively, estranged & vying for the winner takes all $5 million Sparta MMA Tournament Championship – a once only tournament dubbed “The Superbowl of MMA”; Kevin Dunn as Principal Zito, Brendan’s boss when he isn’t moonlighting from his high school physics teacher job at amateur MMA tournaments to supplement the family’s income in an attempt to save their home from foreclosure; and Nick Nolte, Paddy Conlon, their recovering alcoholic & estranged father, whose violent & abusive behavior when they were adolescents broke up the family.
Nolte earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nomination for his fantastic job, as expected, in bringing Paddy to life. He longs now to be the father as to his sons, but they refuse his supplications. His only relationship with the two boys is to cheer on Brendan at Sparta, only to be given dagger sharp looks in return, and as a trainer for Tommy. Tommy treats him with disdain: Belittling him for finding God (“So you found God, huh? That’s awesome. See, Mom kept calling out for him but he wasn’t around.”); joining AA (“Is that one of the 12 steps? Or does a guy like you get 24?”); and attempting at this late juncture to be a father to him (“I think I liked you better when you were a drunk.”). He makes sure there is no mincing words when reminding “Pop” of his treatment of his now dead mother who he feels could have been saved had she been cared for and afforded the opportunity to have health care (“Must be tough to find a girl who could take a punch nowadays.”). In my mind, Hardy steals the show. He’s brilliant. His characterization makes you simultaneously pity, admire & hate him. He’s sharp-witted and yet a dumb jock. He’s real, he’s angry, he’s tough, and in the end, he grows & learns compassion. The interplay between Nolte & Hardy is a prime example of what brings me back to the movies over & over: The confrontational & honest exploration of the human condition!
The film was directed by Gavin O’Connor and the bad performances reflect directly on him, while the good ones only in part. But one of the good ones is O’Connor’s himself, who plays the uncredited role of Sparta promoter J.J. Riley.
The terrible performance: Jennifer Morrison as Brendan’s wife, Tess. Every second that she is on screen is either a cringe or a cringe at the thought of the surely impending cringe. Morrison’s career is a basically a decade and change of one TV show after another and her leap to a major role in a major motion picture is about as seamless & soulless as Geronimo’s moccasins. There are other bad performances: Mainly the bit part high school seniors in one of Brendan’s classes, but these roles are small, even when taken in total, and much more easily forgiven.
The predictability factor is unfortunate. Almost from the moment the characters are introduced, you know what’s in store and how the film ends. That said, it’s a good ending. No surprises here. I think in most cases, and this film in particular, that is worse.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another of the very strong points of Warrior: The music. The soundtrack is excellent. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is thematic in the film, weaving in & out of the soundtrack like Playin’ in the Band in that certain Grateful dead concert. Mark Isham, notable for his work on what I think is the best film of the last decade & one of the best ever, Crash, wrote the original music and it’s wonderful. I recommend this film highly when you have a couple & a half hours and bottles of wine to spare: 3 Stars.