By Rick Morris
Assuming that you haven’t already been spoiled by the promos that were released for this movie, you may or may not want to watch the trailer below. The chances are excellent that you will enjoy Warrior regardless. The chances are even better that you will enjoy it more if you go in with less knowledge.
I stayed clear of almost all information about the movie before I went to see it. I knew that our fellow FDH Lounge Dignitary Jake Digman was in it, appearing as Jake Digman, bringing some of his characteristic MMA ring announcing. [Side note: Boy, is that surreal – but really cool – to see your associate and friend up on the big screen doing his schtick.] But I didn’t know much else about the film.
That was the correct approach, in my estimation.
First of all, if you go in expecting the “MMA Rocky,” your modest expectations will be surpassed a hundredfold. Yes, this is an MMA movie with lots of great fight scenes and underdog-style striving. But this is where the movie diverges greatly from the old tired sports movie formula.
There are actually two underdog stories here, in the form of two estranged brothers from a broken family. One fights under his mother’s maiden name, so the world at large doesn’t even know that they are brothers as they enter the big tournament. They travel parallel paths, from the common need of money for loved ones to the failure to meet past amateur wrestling potential due to the family situation to their decisions to retain familiar-but-skeptical trainers.
It’s important to note that it’s plausible as you watch the movie to imagine either man winning the tournament. Moreover, the reason you may want to enter the theater as a blank slate the way that I did is that the trailers reveal whether or not the brothers ended up fighting in the finals. Not knowing that part, I would have found it believable to envision either the brothers having to square off in the end or the differences being buried suddenly with one of them being gravely injured and the other fighting to avenge him. Hindsight is 20-20, but maybe the initial box office numbers might have been closer to projections had the filmmakers allowed more people to go in with less information as I did.
The story is amazingly well-crafted, as younger brother Tommy (Tom Hardy) and his sibling Brendan (Joel Edgerton) battle not just ring foes, but the demons visited on the family by the past violent alcoholism of their father Paddy (Nick Nolte, in a performance highly likely to garner him an Oscar nomination). Again, if you’re expecting something closer to the level of a typical sports movie, you’ll be blown away by the dramatic writing and the stunning-but-logical twists and turns. There’s one scene, later in the movie, where Tommy gets revenge on his father (who is sober now and training him in an attempt to redeem himself) in shocking fashion – a moment even he didn’t fully realize could manifest itself – and the wave of regret that washes over everyone in the scene left me choked up, frankly.
Hardy and Edgerton, while not the “name” actors usually asked to help carry a film of this sort, really distinguished themselves and as their careers take flight in the years to come, the roles they played here will surely be seen as steppingstones. The other casting was superb up and down the line as well (again, not just talking about my boy Jake!). Veteran character actor Kevin Dunn shines in his support role as he always does (I’m looking forward to seeing him in the lead when The Eric Mangini Story subsequently hits the big screen) and Frank Grillo nailed it as Brendan’s friend and trainer Frank Campana. [Side note: I was hugely distracted trying to figure out where I recognized Grillo from until I realized that he played Hart Jessup on Guiding Light back in the ‘90s. Don’t judge me!]
Other parts of it were amusing as well, such as seeing Kurt Angle portraying a Russian super-fighter and contemplating what state athletic commission on God’s Green Earth would allow the finalists to go through four brutal fights over the course of only two nights. But these weren’t distractions to me. I did wonder whether the Marines shown cheering Tommy in the crowd (real Marines, I learned from Jake) knew the full truth of his circumstances before his last fight when some gnarly things came out about him. I’d like to have that answered in a director’s cut on the DVD.
In short, I can’t recommend the movie enough. If you’re delicate enough that realistic cage-fighting is going to ruin the experience for you, then I can tell you not to waste your time. But for everyone else, this would be judged to be an absolute great film and something you may even want to see again.