Watched Mar. 15th, 2020
Director – Gavin O’Connor
Starring – Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo
Sports movies like Warrior have a flaw central to their essence. Even the best of them, Remember the Titans, Miracle, Moneyball, etc. have a predictable dramatic simulated Sports event at their climax. In Titans, Sunshine and Rev make the big plays to win as Trevor Rabin’s score squeezes every ounce out of our hearts, slow motion flying through the air. In Moneyball, Hatteberg drills the walk-off shot to extend the streak, lights flash, he points to the sky, world peace is achieved. But if those events didn’t happen, if failure was all the viewer was given, the movie would strain the limits of enjoyability and watchability.
Even in Moneyball, as the A’s are eliminated from the playoffs, yet again, the high of the streak along with the theme of the endless pursuit of perfection keeps the mood of the film high and the viewer satisfied. However, the climax is rarely truly suspenseful, often ridiculously over-the-top, always stretches “believability” to the limit, and in most cases pretty dumb. Space Jam does a great job hammering home this point with a seemingly endless sequence of heroic “just barely” moments culminating with the stretch dunk. In a cartoon, with Bill Murray and Michael Jordan, it almost isn’t annoying. It is with this background of apprehension that I approached the pseudo-Sports movie Warrior.
The main reason I watched it was the billing of Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte. Say what you will about Nolte’s scratchy growl of a personality, he knocks this role out of the park and has the Oscar nomination to prove it. Edgerton has more of the school teacher and less of the former UFC fighter of his character in him. I’m glad they went with him over a less talented but stronger looking actor though because his character needed to be noticeable to not get shoved aside by Nolte and Hardy. Bless Tom Hardy, he is magnificent. He is so desperate yet cool and chilled, a smoldering hatred visible beneath a veneer of distance and disrespect.
The story uses the fights as gravity to pull the characters of the film to the ending. On the way, you meet a desperate family with the ideal father (Edgerton) who gave up fighting to face the much greater challenge of making ends meet and providing. Of course, he’ll have to fight again to win the real battle and conveniently win $5 million. You meet his father (Nolte), a veteran of war and the 12-step program, a man held together by regret and a spark of goodwill. An underdeveloped detail, the constant presence of Moby Dick being read aloud, punctuates at least the attempted depth of his story. The other mysterious fighter (Hardy), is quickly revealed to be the younger brother, a veteran with a checkered past who’s hatred for his father pales only in comparison with his self-hate. In the end, healing is found in sweat, blood, pain, and struggle.
The fights are well choreographed and seem real enough. MMA’s brutality is on full display. The “Rocky” trope, where a main character takes a beating four or five times what any human being could sustain only to somehow miraculously survive and not only survive but win, is used liberally. The real joy in the film though is the relationships. At the center are the brothers, each having experienced their home but then taken very different roads. Then there’s the father, desperate for forgiveness. The family, the wife, the daughters and their needs and the slightly unbelievable level of support. The coach (Grillo) and his commitment to his friend. The community and their support. Those relationships elevate a run-of-the-mill “against all odds” Sports story to something a little more meaningful and enjoyable.
If you enjoy MMA or boxing movies you’ll enjoy Warrior. If you like top-shelf acting in settings usually reserved for more popcorn performances, you’ll enjoy Warrior. If you’re a Hardy fanboy you’ve probably already seen Warrior. If this sounds like a terrible movie about angry men beating on each other, on the surface you’re not entirely wrong. However, the struggles and desperation of life are easy analogies to the brutal realities of combat for sport. Victory is achieved through strength of body, will, and character. It’s ok to get caught up a little in the drama, it is only a movie.