Warrior is the tale of two brothers, Brendan Conlan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy). The film begins with an angry and drunken Tommy showing up at his childhood home and confronting Paddy (Nick Nolte), his recovering alcoholic father. It has been years since the two have spoken, and all we learn is that Tommy left with his mother, she died and he joined the Marines. Unwilling to talk about his past, Tommy spends his time working out and manages to humiliate a top-ranking MMA fighter in a sparring match. This gets him attention from the right promoters, and pretty soon Tommy is entered into an elite 16-man MMA tournament, Sparta, with a five million dollar purse on the line.
|It's humiliating when the ref starts spanking you in the ring|
|Don't fighters usually show off their chests and abs?|
You can figure out where the basic plot goes from there. Yes, both men are unknown underdogs. Yes, family is of utmost importance to both brothers. Yes, they have the good luck of being in opposite sides of the tournament bracket, which will allow the climax of the film to have brother fighting brother to win the tournament. What will win the day: Tommy's fury, or Brendan's desperation?
Despite the familiar and predictable plot, Warrior stands out with some excellent performances. Joel Edgerton was quite good as the workhorse for the film; his was the character with the most relatable and understandable emotions, and he conveyed these emotions well. Edgerton also gave an impressive physical performance; his character's style --- wear 'em down and make them submit --- matches his age and body type. He was very convincing as an underdog that could, in the right circumstances, win.
|Like Rocky, he blocks their punches with his face until they get tired|
|Where'd his neck go?|
Gavin O'Connor directed Warrior, and I thought he did a pretty good job. At its core, Warrior is an extremely predictable film. O'Connor makes sure to do it very well, though. Better than simply telling the story competently, though, is the fact that O'Connor invests a lot of effort in the dramatic scenes. The acting is very well done --- I would argue that it is far better than the script deserved --- and those scenes are powerful enough to make you forget that you know in your heart exactly how the film will end. You will probably have at least a moment where you don't know which brother you want to win the championship, and that is a huge accomplishment for O'Connor's direction. I also liked how he handled certain obligatory scenes. Yes, there is a training montage, but it goes by faster because O'Connor splits up the screen to show both brothers training at the same time. I thought the fight scenes were shot very well; my wife and I agreed that if real UFC fights were as exciting as these scenes, we might actually give a crap about MMA. Honestly, I was not excited about this movie because I don't care about mixed martial arts. I was pleasantly surprised to not only care about the characters in Warrior, but I genuinely enjoyed the fight scenes, too.
|"Are you sure you want to fight this guy?"|
Warrior certainly has its flaws, though. The familiar story is the most obvious example, but the script isn't very good, either. Even if you ignore some of the boring dialogue, the script is plagued with shallow characters with poorly explained motives (although the cast does a fantastic job of disguising that) and a climax that is missing falling action and explicit conflict resolution. And it is pretty ridiculous to believe that two unknown fighters --- one considered too old to compete and the other apparently without a valid US ID --- would be able to enter a highly competitive 16-man tournament for a large prize. Even if that was believable, none of the fighters are described as UFC fighters; I understand why Anderson Silva wouldn't want to play a loser, but the script references the UFC, and yet none of the fighters are supposed to be current UFC champions or contenders. Really? Not even for $5 million? That makes no sense to me.
Despite some logical gaps, the emotional performances were enough to keep me engaged with Warrior. Whenever I felt a knowing eye-roll coming on, the acting of Hardy and Edgerton drew me back into the story. Knowing (or guessing) the ending doesn't hurt this movie --- it's all about caring for the characters, instead.