Release date: September 9th, 2011
Running time: 140 minutes
Written by: Gavin O’Connor, Cliff Dorfman, and Anthony Tambakis
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morison, Frank Grillo, and Nick Nolte
If you look at the history of film it’s clear that boxing has been the most well-represented sport on film. I don’t know if boxing is more inherently cinematic than other sports, but the genre has a number of classic films from Rocky, to Raging Bull, to Million Dollar Baby, and others. But in the last ten years, while boxing is in a decline, a new sport has come along that’s captured the same audience which was once dedicated to boxing. That sport being mix martial arts. While there have been films based around MMA, most have been either direct to DVD or direct to DVD quality. Warrior is the first attempt to make a serious film revolving around MMA.
I should point out before I get into this that I’m not a fan of MMA. I have nothing but respect for the athletes who complete, but the sport just doesn’t interest me. Granted, neither does boxing but Raging Bull is still one of my favourite films. Anyway, the film revolves around two brothers, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy). The two were separated as teenagers when their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) beat their mom and sent her away. Tommy went with his mom, but Brendan chose to stay, in part to stay with his girlfriend and future wife. Years later, the two have gone down very different roads. Brendan is married with kids, as well as being a high school physics teacher, while Tommy is a former US marine. Both end up needing money and decide to enter an MMA tournament in Atlantic City with a $5 million cash prize. Through this tournament the family is forced to confront each other.
Of the two brothers, the one we learn the most about is Brendan Conlon. Brendan is a pretty likable character. He may have made a questionable decision in the past, but his reasons for doing so make sense. He has a good life, but his told the bank will foreclose on his home if he can’t pay his mortgage in 90 days. With limited options, Brendan decides to return to MMA. Edgerton does a good job in the role. He’s very likable and it’s satisfying to watch him succeed against tremendous odds.
On the other end of the spectrum is Tommy Conlon, who is much more an enigma than his brother. It’s this enigma that makes Tommy the most interesting character in the film. Tommy is played by Tom Hardy who does a great job. Hardy brings a lot of intensity and anger to the role. You can feel that he’s gone through a lot and he’s reluctant to open up to anyone. Hardy also got into amazing shape for the role and their are moments in the film where he can be pretty scaring. It’s a great performance, and it makes me really excited to see what Hardy does with Bane.
The supporting cast is pretty solid as well. Nick Nolte is great as the father of the boys. Nolte plays a really sad and pathetic character who at first you sort of hate, but eventually come to pity. It’s especially sad to watch him try desperately to reconnect with his family. The others are okay. Jennifer Morrison is fine as Brendan’s wife and I did like Frank Grillo as Brendan’s trainer. I also liked seeing Kevin Dunn. The only characters I hated were the two commentators for the fights during the tournament. Especially since most of the time they were just pointing out the obvious. I realize real MMA fights do have commentators, but this is a film, and it wasn’t needed at all. But the focus of the film is definitely on the Conlon family.
The story is pretty standard for an underdog sports film. In fact, it’s pretty easy to predict how the story will play out early on. This is probably the film’s biggest weakness. For most of the movie, which is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, you know what’s going to happen. The only real change to the formula is that instead of one underdog, we have two. Both are likable and both have genuine unselfish reasons for wanting the money. I can see audiences being divided on who they root for in the film. This also makes the ending more interesting because the audience isn’t entirely sure who’s gonna win.
The film can be appreciated for it’s individual scenes. Like most sports films, this one does have a training montage. This one feels pretty fresh though as it’s actually a montage of training, fighting, and promotion of the tournament. The editing in it is pretty cool. Any confrontation between the Conlon family is great, and the fight scenes are all pretty good. Especially the final fight which was fantastic since it had the most emotion, the most unpredictable, and the least amount of commentary.
As enjoyable as Warrior is, the film is still trapped in it’s typical genre conventions. This doesn’t make the film bad, but it sort of limits it’s potential. The acting is good, and while it is formulaic, I did find myself rooting for both protagonists. It’s not perfect, but as the first MMA film to take itself seriously, it’s pretty good.
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