November 16, 2011

07.10: WARRIOR

Warrior: man on man action
One of those sports films I was talking about with Moneyball, Warrior is a film that unashamedly goes for the big emotions and grand gestures. It could almost be written off as a high gloss, high concept B-movie, but it's pulled off with such deft aplomb you cannot help but get sucked into the tale of familial melodrama.. and kickboxing.
Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy are estranged brothers Brendan and Tommy. Their dad, played by Nick Nolte in full-on grizzled and haggard mode, is an ex-alcoholic and back in the bad old days, their mum left him. Tommy, a prize-winning wrestler trained by his dad, went with her while Brendan stayed with the old man. Brendan is now happily married with kids, a job teaching and money troubles that he tries to ease by fighting in car park mixed martial arts bouts. Tommy cared for their mother and watched her slowly die before joining the Marines. He washes up on his old man's doorstep. Neither brother has much to do anymore with the man responsible for so much pain in their lives - until Tommy washes up on his doorstep looking for a place to crash.

Both of these guys are fighters and both have very good reasons for needing money. Co-writer and director Gavin O'Connor is intent on giving the audience plenty of time with Tommy and Brendan, to really come to understand these two men and their motivations. It's possible too much time is given over to this set-up before O'Connor even reveals the pot o' gold at the centre of the film: a winner-takes-all mixed martial arts tournament with a massive cash prize.
Of course the two brothers are going to end up facing off in the cage in the final round. Everyone knows where the film is going, O'Connor just takes his time getting there. Yes, this allows the audience into the worlds of Tommy and Brendan but it begins to become frustrating when the tournament isn't even mentioned until a decent way into the film. But then, O'Connor has set himself a challenge by, essentially, attempting to give us two Rocky's in one movie. 

Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy are two of the most interesting and physical actors working their way up Hollywood. Hardy of course has caught people's eyes with his transformation in Bronson and his scene stealing in Inception, while Edgerton made a big impression with little screentime in Animal Kingdom. They're both incredible presences and work to make their physicality as much a part of their characters. Hardy's Tommy is a hunched over bruiser, trying to hide his emotional bruising. As a fighter he's quick, vicious and brutal. He goes for the knockouts and doesn't stick around for the applause; he's only there to dish out the pain and win. Edgerton's Brendan though, stands tall; he has a solid base of family to support him and has worked through any demons he may have had. He's a battler, tenacious with his opponents. He doesn't give up, even against far bigger fighters.

And then between these two is the shambling presence of Nick Nolte, trying to do right by his boys but neither of them willing or able to forgive and forget his abuse. Nolte really knocks it out here - where Hardy internalises everything and lets that show through his physicality, Nolte cannot help but express everything. His Paddy Conlan is such a broken figure shuffling around his small house, hopeful for forgiveness but unsure he'll ever receive it.

Warrior is a big emotion sports movie - two underdogs, both equally compelling and both hungry for the prize. I know next to nothing about the world and sport of mixed martial arts, but then I don't need to. I'm not much for sports, but I do love sports movies. There's something about them, the way they're able to distill the visceral thrill of a game or a bout, with the emotional investment of a dedicated fan and Warrior does not disappoint. That final bout, the showdown between brothers, is what the film is all about and O'Connor ensures there's enough drama and tension to keep you invested. I think Warrior could comfortably play in a double-bill with Stallone's Rocky

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