Friday, December 2, 2011

Review of Warrior

Directed by Gavin O'Connor and starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte, Warrior is a surprising solid movie about a family involved in the sport of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).

The film starts slowly with Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), a former alcoholic going home from his church. When he arrived home, he see his son Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy) waiting for him.

It was not a happy homecoming as Tommy still held resentment due to his father's former abusive behavior. A few days later, Tommy enters a gym where he knocks a professional MMA fighter named Pete "Mad Dog" Grimes (Erik Apple) unconscious in a brutal sparring bout. The fight was filmed by a spectator who uploaded it to the Internet where it went viral.

Meanwhile, Paddy’s other son Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), is struggling financially and his home is facing foreclosure. Brendan is a high school physics teacher as well as a bouncer but even with his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) working as well, they are still unable to pay off their loan with the bank. Faced with little choice, Brendan takes part in an amateur MMA tournament for the prize money. A former professional fighter with the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), he easily wins the tournament and convinces his wife this is the best and only way to get the money they need. Brendan then hook up with his former trainer, Frank Campana (Frank Grillo), to get in shape and begins to win a series of MMA fights.

As the gods have it (aka the scriptwriters), there is a US$5 million winner-takes-all MMA tournament called Sparta that has attracted massive media attention. Unknown to the two brothers, both Brendan and Tommy entered the tournament for the prize.

First off let me get this off; you really need to see this movie!

In many ways, Warrior is this year’s “The Fighter”. It is a gripping movie about the different paths 2 brother took in their life and how despite their differences and flaws, they are still in the end, a family.

However in many ways, it is also superior to “The Fighter”. Warrior takes an unapologetic look at the effects and emotional aftermath of alcoholism. Even when the alcoholic father had cleaned up his act, forgiveness from his sons isn’t a given. In fact unlike “The Fighter”, even at the end of this movie, it is still an open question whether the Conlon’s estrangement has been resolved.

I especially loved the way the actors threw their all into their roles. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton truly looked like professional fighters and the fight scenes were very well-staged. In the cinema where I saw the movie, there were a couple of times when guys pumped their fists up in the air during the fights and there was even a cheer for one of the characters.

It was that intense.

However the cream of the actors is Nick Nolte. The veteran actor had the meatiness role as the recovered alcoholic father who was unable to make amends with his sons, and he proved up to the challenge. His Paddy Conlon was a man haunted by his past and who knows he has no right to ask for forgiveness. I heard that Nick Nolte may be up for “Best Supporting Actor” for this performance and if he is, it is something he richly deserved.

Of course, there are some flaws in this movie. In many ways, Warrior is a clich├ęd sports movie. As well made as it is, there is nothing here that you won’t find in other movies like Rocky, The Fighter etc. Originality isn’t the movie’s strong point.

Also director Gavin O'Connor kept viewers at a certain distance from the movie. In what I believe was a deliberate move, O’Conner tried to keep viewers from being too focus on any one character by keeping a distance from them. There were very few close ups and this created some problems in the movie. Certain scenes did not have the impact they should (Paddy’s visit to Brendan’s house/Tommy and Brendan’s confrontation on the beach) due to this.

However, these flaws are minor as on the whole, this movie is excellent. It’s a story of redemption, reconciliation and the difficult path to them. It also didn’t take the easy way out as it was an open question at the end on whether the characters did manage to reconcile. Watch this movie; IT’S GREAT!

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