While a grade-school teacher and his estranged brother may not seem like they’d stand a chance in the violent world of Mixed Martial Arts, “Warrior” comes through as a believable film that exemplifies the heart and passion of highly-ranked professional fighters.
Directed and written by Gavin O’Connor, “Warrior” is the story of Tommy (Tom Hardy) and his brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) who compete in “Sparta,” a world-championship grand prix to name the greatest middleweight MMA fighter. Tommy, a retired Marine, seeks help from his father (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic, to train him for the tournament. Brendan, a fighter-turned-physics-teacher, faces foreclosure on his house after being suspended from his job for participating in local fights for extra cash. Despite strong opposition from his wife (Jennifer Morrison), he decides to train with his ex-coach (Frank Grillo) for a chance to win the Sparta fight purse.
O’Connor’s script successfully takes the tale of a torn family and merges it with the high-stress, violent life of a championship fighter to create an entertaining and emotionally fulfilling film. The beginning is a bit slow and convoluted with scenes dedicated to Nolte’s bland performance as a father trying to obtain forgiveness from his sons. These moments drag on with repetitive apologies that create no lasting sympathy for the character. But “Warrior” still manages to hit the right beats and provides an incredible climax during the Sparta tournament.
O’Connor cleverly creates conflict between the brothers, instead of the typical and overused dilemma of which character will win the competition. This provides interesting insight into the minds of the athletes and creates a more meaningful film.
Tommy is a loner and remains mysterious for most of the film, and his quiet character contrasts with his dynamic older brother. Brendan is a family man, a charismatic high school teacher and surprisingly capable in the cage. The brothers show the nuances in the personalities of professional MMA fighters.
“Warrior” is not only a riveting film, it is a fair representation of the sport of MMA. Previous movies based on MMA, such as the 2008’s “Never Back Down” portray the sport with unrealistic kung fu flashiness. O’Connor took great care in approaching the sport with precise realism. At some points the fight scenes are so well done that it seems to be a live showing of a real Ultimate Fighting Championship match, rather than a choreographed sequence. O’Connor’s sensitivity to the accuracy of the sport is admirable and makes the film believable.
While “Warrior” does have some kinks in its pacing — which result in long drawn out scenes that tend to bore — at its core the movie is highly entertaining and emotionally fulfilling. The film speaks truthfully about what it means to be a fighter with little theatric exaggeration and has the potential to be for MMA what films like “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” were for boxing.
“Warrior” was written and directed by Gavin O’Connor.
3 out of 4 stars