Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Before I begin my review of Warrior, I would like to address the elephant in the room.  No, this is not the prequel to The Warriors.  Sorry to crush your hopes and dreams.

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
Meanwhile, Brendan is in serious trouble with his home mortgage; his family will lose their home in three months.  Brendan is a high school teacher and his wife (Jennifer Morrison) apparently works in the short skirt industry, and Brendan even occasionally moonlights as an amateur MMA fighter for a couple hundred bucks a pop.  There's really no way for them to make much more money than they already are.  When Brendan shows up for school with visible bruises on his face, he is suspended from work without pay.  With no other real options, he starts to train full-time and winds up being a last-minute replacement for an injured fighter in the Sparta tournament.
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
Tom Hardy's performance was much more visceral.  Thanks to the bulk he put on for the role and the crazy eyes he showed during the fight scenes, Hardy looked and acted like an angry violent man.  His non-fighting scenes were fine --- he certainly had more of a Philadelphia accent than Edgerton --- but it was how fully he threw himself into the furious physicality of his role that impressed me.
Where'd his neck go?
The rest of the cast was decent.  Nick Nolte had a fairly complex role and he showed off a bit; Nolte's the sort of actor that seems to meet the difficulty level of his role, so it was nice to see him playing a part that relied on hints and subtleties in the script.  Jennifer Morrison was fine, but her character's logic bothered me; she bounced too easily from being protective to supportive for my liking, and she switched over at the worst possible time.  Kurt Angle was cast to basically serve as the Russian MMA bogeyman, and he certainly looked fierce, although I don't think that required much acting.  Noah Emmerich made a brief appearance as a somewhat mean bank officer, which is not surprising, since he always seems to play heels.  Kevin Dunn was inconsequential as the principal at Brendan's school.  Rounding out the notable cast, Frank Grillo looked the part of a physical trainer, complete with stupid haircut, but I found him considerably less annoying than his character might have been.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!

    My name is Taylor Brandt. I recently helped create a short film for the Splatterfest Festival in Houston. It received 11 awards including:
    *Best Film
    *Best Director
    *Best Screenplay
    *Best Editing
    *Best Kill
    *Best Splatter
    *Best Special Effects
    *Audience Favorite Film
    *Audience Favorite Story
    *Audience Favorite Kill
    *Audience Favorite Makeup

    After the festival we posted on FunnyOrDie, and still hold an impressive 94% funny rating.

    Film -
    IMDB -
    FB -

    The video is only 6 minutes or so, (and you could always turn it off early). It would be fantastic if you could take a look at the video, and review our film!

    Thanks for your time,
    -Taylor (aka Shaun the Zombie)