6/10 Family Feuds
A poor man’s The Fighter that’s saved by its cast.
Warrior is about two estranged brothers who parted ways as kids when the eldest stayed behind to live their alcoholic father while the youngest skipped town with their mom to escape their abusive household. Years later, the eldest has a family of his own and works as a high school math teacher, and the youngest, with nowhere else to go, comes home to live with his now-sober dad after a stint overseas with the Marines. Because the eldest is in danger of having his home foreclosed upon, he starts competing in mixed martial arts tournaments to make ends meet; and because the youngest has nothing better to do, he makes a name for himself in the same circuit after joining his old gym where he and his brother used to train. Lo and behold, they enter the same best-of-the-best mixed martial arts tournament and have to fight their way to the top while repairing old wounds.
Word on the street is that this was originally supposed to be released in the Fall of last year, but since The Fighter was already on its way, you can probably guess why the studio took a raincheck. And for the sake of not turning this into a “Here’s why The Fighter‘s better than Warrior” review, I’ll just start by saying that the comparison is unavoidable and it suffers extra for it.
It’s not that I’m crazy about The Fighter or was expecting this movie to fail because of the natural comparison, but the weird thing about this movie is that it made me appreciate the The Fighter more than I ever thought I would. When the characters here were talking, I kept thinking “Man, the dialogue in The Fighter was freaking awesome.” When the younger brother’s wife gets put on the back burner while the men steal the spotlight, I kept thinking, “Man, Amy Adams was a freaking badass in The Fighter.” When I started rolling my eyes at all the schmaltzy crap that goes down during the last half-hour, I kept thinking, “Man, this would have been so much better if it had been a true story like The Fighter.”
So in those regards, Warrior was kind of screwed before the gloves were even on. But that’s not to say it doesn’t put up a fight.
As far as its strengths are concerned, writer/director Gavin O’Connor should be thanking his lucky stars that he got Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte to sign on. If you’ve already seen Bronson, then I don’t need to tell you what a goddamn beast of an actor Tom Hardy is. If you haven’t seen Bronson and only have his scene-stealing turn in Inception to go off of, than this should do the trick and then some. Hardy plays the younger brother and former Marine, and talk about a guy who knows a thing or two about looking tough and acting tough and making it look easy. It doesn’t hurt that his neck muscles are bigger than my thighs, but Hardy runs away with it early on with all his collected rage and I wouldn’t be all too surprised if this even landed him an Oscar nod come February.
And if you ever doubted Nick Nolte’s status as one of Hollywood’s most outrageously under-appreciated powerhouses, get ready to feel shame. Much like Hardy, Nolte very much looks, sounds, and acts the part of a washed-up recovering alcoholic who’s continually pushed two steps back every time he tries to inch forward into his kids’ lives. He’s arguably the most interesting character of the bunch and the guy is just a vet when it comes to commanding the screen, getting vulnerable, and giving it his all. Like the rest of the cast, he eventually overdoes it a bit, but that’s far more the writers’ fault than it is his.
Joel Edgerton is also good as the older brother and family man, but he ultimately gets overshadowed for two reasons. The first is that it seems like he has two facial expressions to work with, and they both look exactly like the other. The second is that he’s definitely not as built as Hardy, doesn’t have nearly the same kind of fighting experience, yet he still manages to destroy in the ring because he has so much heart. It wouldn’t be an issue if he could dodge punches like Peter Parker, but for all the hits to the brain he takes from beginning to end, Edgerton should have been breathing out of a tube long while the doctors pieced his skull back together long before Kurt Angle entered the picture.
But for the most part, the script is good. Up until the end, the dialogue is believable, the character development is as strong as it is complex, and for a long time it does a really good job of not making this seem like Rocky mixed with The Fighter. The plot isn’t exactly anything new, but thanks to the fleshed out characters and the performances backing them up, it feels different. But alas, there’s that last half-hour I keep tiptoeing around…
If you made a list of all the things you loved about Rocky that have turned into one sports movie cliche after another over the years, let’s just say you’d have yourself quite the completed checklist by the end of Warrior. It gets really melodramatic, it gets really formulaic, and it gets way too lovey dovey for its own good. On top of that, the movie is 140 minutes long, and that’s just bad business. By the time I started seeing Tom Hardy finish three different fights in the exact same way and listened to him chew out his dad with the exact same speech he gave in the first ten minutes of the movie, it seemed like blowups and makeups were getting thrown in there just because. It’s a damn shame that this script goes down the road it does to wrap up all the loose ends and emotions, ’cause it was really headed towards something fresh.
But all things considered, Warrior is still a good movie, it does nothing but favors for the MMA world, and up until everyone started saying “I love you,” it was cruising at a solid 7 and had the potential to snag an 8. If you haven’t seen The Fighter and if you haven’t seen Rocky, then there’s a very strong chance that you’ll flat-out flip your knickers over this movie. But even if you’re the majority that’s seen ’em both, there’s still Hardy and Nolte, and those two just kill it.