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An ex-Marine haunted by a tragic past; Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh and enlists his father; a recovered alcoholic and his former coach; to train him for an MMA tournament awarding the biggest purse in the history of the sport. As Tommy blazes a violent path towards the title prize; his brother; Brendan; (Joel Edgerton) a former MMA fighter unable to make ends meet as a public school teacher; returns to the amateur ring to provide for his family after being suspended from his day job. Even though years have passed; recriminations and betrayals keep Brendan bitterly estranged from both Tommy and his father. But when Brendan's unlikely rise as an underdog sets him on a collision course with Tommy; the two brothers must finally confront the forces that tore them apart; all the while waging the most intense; winner-takes-all battle of their lives.
Some men make their peace by hugging it out, but the men in Warrior communicate through their fists. Paddy Condon (Nick Nolte) trained his sons to be ultimate fighting champions, but alcohol, divorce, and a span of 14 years has driven them apart. Now Brendan (Animal Kingdom's Joel Edgerton) works as a science teacher, while Tommy (Tom Hardy, looking even burlier than he did in Bronson) has returned to Pittsburgh in the wake of his mother's death. He contacts his estranged father only because he wants to fight again. Paddy knows better than to ask what he's been doing in the meantime, but details of Tommy's time in the marines come to light just as his brother also plans a return to the ring, a move his wary wife (House's Jennifer Morrison) supports only because they'll lose their home otherwise. It's a foregone conclusion that the brothers will face each other in Atlantic City for the mixed martial arts competition with the $5 million prize, though Miracle director Gavin O'Connor makes the meeting surprisingly believable by capturing the bouts that lead up to the main event. Throughout, Tommy fights like Tyson, knocking out opponents in a single blow, while Brendan wears them down through dogged persistence. The actors give it their all, but O'Connor stretches his underwritten script too far, leaving Tommy overly enigmatic, so it's fortunate that Brendan emerges as a more fully rounded figure, proving that Edgerton's move from the stage to the screen was a wise course of action. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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First, I would not call this a sports movie. It is not Rocky, Raging Bull, The Wrestler, or The Fighter. Warrior, according to many professional critics, is better than all of them, and I agree. There is the suspense factor of who will win the championship fight, for sure, and the stand-up-and-cheer factor as the opponents are picked off one by one, and there is the heartwarming factor as the school teacher tries to save his home from foreclosure. These cliches somehow are not relevant to this film and I salute O'Connor and the other writers for telling a story that glosses over them.
As some reviewers have pointed out, this film is not really about MMA (mixed martial arts) winners and losers. Like others, I had never heard of MMA and don't like either boxing or wrestling (for me the former is just brutal beating and the second relies on a series of moves that I don't understand). But in this film MMA is choreographed so that you see the intensity and bruises on the fighters faces, the strain and pain on their arms, legs, and shoulders, but are not cringing at any blood and gore. There is no blood and gore in the cage (and probably that is what accounts for its PG-13 rating). As for the cinematography, the periodically trembling camera follows the fighters in close-ups, so you actually feel like you are standing in the ref's shoes. The score, which includes Ode to Joy and The National's About Today, is perfect.
I think what really puts the gold on the five stars, though, is the caliber of acting. When the movie was made,over two years ago, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton were barely known to American audiences. O'Connor said he didn't want the performers to overshadow the characters, and with the anonymity of the actors, he would achieve that. He shouldn't have worried. The brothers, especially Hardy, completely disappear in the characters. Nolte not so much. His real life and his persona as Paddy Conlon are not so far apart, but I can't think of any other actor who could redeem this character with such pathos.
As story-telling goes, Warrior is both a movie and a film. Nobody doesn't love Warrior. Teens will love it, the parent-sibling-sibling conflicts relatable. And the cage fighting will thrill them. In fact, the whole family will enjoy this, sitting on the edge of the seats, cheering, and tearing up sometimes simultaneously. By the way, it wasn't only the ladies tearing up a time or two. After the screening I attended, no one, man or woman, moved from their seats, the lights remained down, only some muted sniffling and discreet blowing of noses.
For the arthouse crowd, there is profound metaphor embedded in the film. There are actually three warriors (fighters) in Warrior, and not one of them actually wins the war (the big fight). The brothers have not seen each other in 14 years, each of them feeling betrayed by the other at a crucial point in the life of the family. The one thing they have in common is hatred for their father, a former drunk and wife-beater. Brendan, the older son, has moved his own family as far away from Paddy as possible and still be in the same state. Communication must be had only by phone or mail. Tommy, an ex-Marine, shows up at his father's house, again after 14 years --but with zero communication-- and wants Paddy to train him for a big tournament. Why in the world, some would say, does Tommy go to his father for this. He hates him. Well, Paddy, also an ex-Marine and pro boxer, trained both Tommy and Brendan as boys. Tommy in wrestling, Brenden in boxing. But Tommy was a champion. Parallels permitted to be drawn. And so, because his motivation is so strong (and so poignant as we find out later), Tommy wants to be trained by the man who made him champion. Paddy hopes to revive this relationship, but Tommy is having none of it. Hardy absolutely seethes in his scenes with Nolte; every comment is a stab wound, every look a gunshot. Nolte takes it like a dog after he's been kicked. Coming back for the pat on the head. Scenes between these two are Oscar material, hands down.
As the story develops, slowly, but with tantalizing bits of mystery in the plot, a lot of gaps are filled in. At the point where the two finalists, Tommy Riordan and Brendan Conlon ("They are brothers!" the announcer shouts), enter the cage, we are so conflicted we want to cry (and we do). Then the script throws us a screwball(another shock, another jerk of a tear). Who the hell to cheer for?! There are no bad guys to fight! Just two alienated brothers who need to beat the crap out of each other in order to win the prize they need so desperately. And when the fight is over, it isn't really over. The end of the cage fight is gut-wrenching. No one wins. Not Tommy, not Brendan, not Paddy. A lot of people say the "ending" of the movie is predictable. Which ending is that? The knockout? The takedown? The tapout? And what exactly do each of those signify? Is there redemption for Paddy? Are there resolutions to the conflicts among the father and brothers? What happens to Tommy, to Brendan, to Paddy, after the tournament ends?
Warrior will run your emotions ragged. High, low, and very few in-betweens. I think the movie will make the Best Films list, and it better get its nominations for Hardy and Nolte. I think Edgerton's quietly powerful performance is award worthy, too, but not in contention with the other two. I hope audiences don't pass this film by because they think it's a violent fight movie or, for UFC fans, too tame. This is a jewel that should be treasured by everyone.