Here’s a film that packs an emotional punch from the very first scene and never looks back. Infinitely better than director Gavin O’Connor’s 2010’s offering “The Fighter” (I know, I’m probably the only person who disliked this movie), “Warrior” convinces the audience to sympathize with two completely different brothers who must face each other in the film’s climax to get what they’ve always been fighting for: deliverance and respect.
The first hour of the film sets up the problems in each brother’s life. The elder brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a high school physics teach, is struggling to make ends meet for his wife and daughter. He decides to get back into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a former family passion. (His father was an MMA trainer.) While Brendan begins training, his younger brother Tommy (Tom Hardy) returns home from fighting overseas. Tommy is emotionally scarred, though his experiences as a Marine remain a mystery until the final battle of the film. He arrives home to his recovering alcoholic father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), and asks him to serve as his trainer for Sparta, the largest ever MMA tournament—the same one his brother Brendan is hoping to win. Paddy agrees, triggering a conflict that serves as the narrative backbone of the film.
The problem with “The Fighter” is that it was nothing new to me. Sure, Christian Bale is phenomenal and deserves that Oscar more than anyone, but the story is too bland. “Warrior” is what “The Fighter” should have been. An amazing ensemble with a well crafted narrative that engages and surprises you throughout the entirety of the film, and O’Connor stages and films the fight scenes with great dexterity. The build-up of fights during the film leads to one of the best climaxes I’ve seen so far this year. It’s impossible to cheer for only one of the brothers. I wanted both men to come out winners, and in some ways they do.
The key performances in the film are those of Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. Hardy, slated to portray Batman baddie Bane in the final chapter of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises,” proves that he is ready to finally become a leading Hollywood man. Tommy is a dark and brooding figure but Hardy provides a performance that convinces us to cheer for him. Clearly the most “villainous” of the three lead performances, Hardy never allows us to doubt Tommy’s intentions and shows us that there’s something beyond his beastly facade. Nolte, on the other hand, gives us an entirely different performance that I’m fairly certain will earn him Oscar buzz. His take on the father that no one loves (Tommy never regards him as his father, he simply uses him as a trainer) and his attempts to keep the family together is heart-breaking. I’ve never been a fan of Nolte, but this blew all my expectations away. He takes everything Tommy and Brendan berate him for and tries to remain in control. After being 1,000 days sober, he eventually breaks due to the anger his two sons unleash on him in one of the most tragic scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Come on, it almost screams Oscar.
Here’s the first real winner of the typically lackluster fall film season. “Warrior” comes out on top to prove that fight films still work. Other than “Rocky” and “Raging Bull,” I’ve never been very impressed by films that revolve around matches in the ring. This changes everything. The story itself mirrors that of “Rocky” in certain aspects but has more of the emotional turmoil found in “Raging Bull.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this film is a masterpiece, I would say it has revitalized an ailing genre. Fight films don’t always have to be about the sport—it’s the journey that takes the characters to that final duel that makes movies like “Warrior” truly great.