Warrior Review


Warrior is too long. It’s cliched as hell. It’s manipulative. Parts feel forced and artificial. It’s overstuffed with subplots. And it’s totally unbelievable. But hell if I didn’t get caught up in it all. I found myself groaning and rolling my eyes far more than I’d like, but I’m a sucker for a good underdog story, especially one as well-acted as Warrior.

When Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy) shows up on his father Paddy’s (Nick Nolte) doorstep after 14 years without any contact, it takes the old man by surprise. He’s the first to admit that he did his son wrong growing up, and he knows that even being three years sober isn’t enough to make up for what he did. But Tommy needs a place to stay and, more importantly, someone to train him for Sparta, the world’s biggest MMA tournament, which is offering a $5 million prize to the last man standing.

Meanwhile, Brendan Conlon is struggling to make ends meet. He and his wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison), work three jobs between them, but they still aren’t able to keep up with the mortgage payments, not with their youngest daughter’s medical bills to deal with. So Brendan starts fighting on the side—something he promised his wife he’d stop years ago after becoming a physics teacher. But the money is good, so he keeps it up until he’s suspended from his teaching job and realizes this is the only way to keep his house. He goes to an old friend for training, and once he gets back in shape, he’s nearly unstoppable. He’s still a major underdog at Sparta, however—especially when put up against Riordan, his brother.

Everything that happens in Warrior is just a bit too coincidental to really believe it—like when a star fighter gets injured just weeks before Sparta, opening up a spot for Brendan. It doesn’t help, of course, that we know where Warrior is going before it even starts (blame the trailer for that one). Even though it’s familiar, however, I couldn’t help but feeling for all three of these guys and rooting for them to succeed.

I’m giving Tom Hardy the best-in-show award. He’s sensational, giving a very physical performance, and making Tommy into a surprisingly complicated individual. If people missed out on Bronson and weren’t aware of what he could do, they know now. It’s the best male performance I’ve seen so far this year, and if he gets an Oscar nomination, I’ll have no qualms.

Joel Edgerton, I think, is destined for big, big things. He was tremendous in last year’s Animal Kingdom. Here, he’s also great, making Brendan both a tough guy and an underdog, someone who we root for, but not someone infallible.

Nick Nolte rounds out the main trio, and he’s very sympathetic in the token “regretful father” role. We never quite know what he did to deserve so much vitriol from his sons, but the clues are there. He wasn’t a good guy, and though he’s changed, it’s not really enough for them. What’s interesting, however, is that because we never see any of these despicable acts, we never really see his bad side. Though we recognize that his sons have gone through too much to really forgive him, we also see him as a whipping boy.

Director Gavin O’Connor deserves a lot of credit. This is a problematic film, but he manages to make you care about it, even if you, like me, couldn’t give two shits about MMA. His visual style is strong, full of confidence. And his most well-known feature, Miracle, clearly prepared him to make the Warrior finale as uplifting and heartwarming as it needs to be.

Warrior will undeniably be compared to last year’s The Fighter because the films cover such similar ground and came out only nine months apart. I think I preferred David O. Russell’s film a little more because I remember its trajectory being just slightly different than what you’d expect. But that doesn’t make this film unworthy. It’s a solid release, especially for September, and with any kind of year-end help from critics, it could end up being an Oscar play for Hardy and/or Nolte.

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