Warrior has been hailed as ‘All the Rocky’s rolled into one’. Though this glowing homage might
titillate the ever hungry action fans amongst us, this statement actually redacts the impact and intention of this movie, reducing it to a film about murderous, monstrous meatheads butting heads and tearing chunks out of each other for the depraved enjoyment of the apathetic masses. There is actually far more to Warrior than meets the eye.This isn’t the tale of two topless finely muscled gods of men merely exchanging fist greetings, though there are certainly enough intense, electric and animatistic fight scenes to really get the adrenalin and testosterone running even in the female members of the audience). There is also something far more subtle, nuanced and human about this film and that is where its success lies. Action fans may assume that this is a straight up fight fest – but they would be wrong in doing so. So too would action avoiders, who might boycott this film due to their aversion be warned against doing so, as they’d be missing more than a spate of WWF montages, but a truly captivating story.
Directed by Gavin O’Connor, who is, as of now, still a director waiting to make a huge impact (though I suspect his luck is set to change) and staring a mega watt cast including Australian hunk Joel Edgerton who portrays physics teacher-cum-fighter in strip club car parks for $500 a pop
against his wives knowledge, Jennifer Morrison as his supportive wife Tess, the swarthy and sophisticated Frank Campana as Frank Grillo and the gorgeously gritty, grubby and grimy Tom Hardy as former marine Tommy, the story is enlivened by the vital pulse of its characters as they battle and brawl the streets of Pittsburgh. Special mention deservedly needs to pass to the wonderful Nick Nolte who portrays Paddy Conlon, a melancholy, bittersweet, rough gem of a man, recovering from a life of heady alcoholism and abuse, who has reached his 1000th day of sobriety. If Nolte does not win an award for his heart shattering performance, which must contain painful notes from his own life, it would be a great injustice.
The story that plays out is one that is harrowing emotionally and physically in equal measure. Two brothers, estranged in adolescence, find themselves entering the same mixed martial arts fighting
tournament, SPARTA, for a shot at the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Isolated from one another, and from their father, the boys have carved out entirely opposite existences. What could be a campy, predictable movie under the charge of a lesser director comes alive in O’Connor’s hands. Physics teacher Brendan is the formulaic, considered family man whilst wild dog Tommy is the AWOL marine hiding behind his mother’s maiden name of Riordan. Whilst Tommy reluctantly and tauntingly turns to his father, a former boxer, for coaching, Brendan is trained by former friend, suave puppy eyed Frank. Their motivations are not entirely different, Brendan wants to secure his family home and Tommy wants to donate the winnings to the widow of his war-time comrade. Their fighting styles too are from opposite schools of thought entirely; Brendan is methodical and plodding, with great patience and endurance – a true underdog who is always hanging in by his claws, who trains to Beethoven and fights for family. Then you have the emotional, volatile and dangerous Tommy, who switches on a dime and charges from the cage – he too fighting for family, if not his own. A whole host of colourful and intriguing combatants join them in the ring; the explosive Mad Dog and the glacier-eyed shark of a man Koba (Kurt Angle) amongst them.
This is a movie about men and male relationships and it seems to me that there are a distinct lack of movies that explore the ways in which men interact with one another; their bonds, rivalries, histories and futures. Instead male relationships tend to be projected as something either campy or feminized, frat boy esque or non-existence as if men simply have nothing of any worth or weight to say to one another. Warrior provides fascinating insight as it delves into the back stories of our father and son trio and their fragmented family unit. Having each gone their own way, they will battle either to bond or eternally shatter the family unit. In a world increasingly consistent of single parent families where many children grow up without the presence of a father figure, it is interesting to explore a son’s relationship with his dad – the conflicting and contradictory repressed and sometimes not so repressed feelings of rage, disappointment and hurt. The film explores the paradoxes of the male ego and with great sensitivity. Not a single tear appears insincere or sentimental, none of the emotion is clichéd or soppy.
This is a film that explores the differences in generations and in men with great respect and understanding, making it so much more than a film about fighting. It is at once both tender and brutal, heart wrenching and nerve fraying, cringe worthy and enlightening as the men re-meet in the most primitive, primal and perhaps most traditionally masculine of all arenas – the fighting cage. Here they thrash out not only their dreams and desires, but their deepest conflicts. Few scenes will touch you more than Paddy’s regression into alcoholism and disputes with his sons. This film goes for the jugular and will leave you feeling truly beaten and bloodied, but as we wade through the rivalry and redemption, peculiarly hopeful by its climax.