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Review: Warrior (2011)

Warrior (2011)

Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

Premise: A pair of brothers, one a school teacher (Joel Edgerton) and the other an Iraq war veteran (Tom Hardy), enter a mixed martial arts tournament in order to secure their financial futures.

What Works: Warrior is the best fight film since Rocky Balboa hung up his gloves. That comparison is apt because this film has a lot in common with the best elements of the Rocky pictures; most importantly, the filmmakers understand that fighting is not an end in itself but a way to dramatize the struggles that each man has to overcome. This is a picture about men and their families, the struggle to survive, and reconciliation. Characters in fight films, whether it is a low budget picture like 1992’s Gladiator or a high profile Oscar winner like Raging Bull, tend to fit into familiar categories and Warrior does follow those established patterns, such as the drunkard trainer seeking redemption played by Nick Nolte or the dutiful fighter’s wife played by Jennifer Morrison. But unlike many other fight films, Warrior has some very strong performances at the center of it. Joel Edgerton plays a science teacher who is forced back into the ring in order to make ends meet and Edgerton has the unique position of playing a civilized man in an uncivilized sport. Tom Hardy is also impressive as the troubled ex-Marine; he could simply be a difficult tough guy but there are moments that reveal deeper issues, such as his recalcitrance toward any kind of adulation. Of course the main attraction of a fight film is the fights themselves and Warrior’s scenes of combat are brutal pieces of showmanship. The cinematography and sound pick up on the violence of mixed martial arts but they also capture the spectacle inherent when men come to blows.

What Doesn’t: Warrior has a lot in it that is familiar from other movies and because of that the story is predictable. The film rises above that familiarity with its superior character writing and the final bout will put viewers on the edge of their seats but on its way there Warrior passes through many familiar fight film scenarios.

Bottom Line: Warrior is a great fight film. Its combination of combat and human drama might strike some viewers as reminiscent of other films (including some that have won Oscars) but few have done it this well.

Episode: #372 (January 22, 2012)