You want to hear a good idea for a fight movie? Here’s one: a tortured loner returns home from the war and reunites with his estranged alcoholic father to enter a fighting tournament and prove his own self-worth. Want another good one? A decent family man with an estranged alcoholic father enters a fighting tournament to win the money he needs to keep his home. Do you want to hear a great idea for a fight movie? Both of those guys have the same father.
In a somewhat large nutshell, that’s Warrior. Two familiar but dramatically successful storylines jammed together without irony. With genuinely powerful performances from Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, this clever idea for a fight movie earns its place as one of the better films in an already great year for movie lovers. What it lacks in subtlety – because in all fairness, there’s none whatsoever – it makes up for with sincerity and dramatic chutzpah.
Tom Hardy continues his string of “Where The Hell Did This Guy Come From?” standout performances as a pit bull of a man who shows up on his father’s doorstep out of the blue to confront the hopeless alcoholic who ruined his and his mother’s lives. Joel Edgerton follows a memorable but all-too-brief turn in Animal Kingdom with a sympathetic portrayal of a science teacher forced to moonlight as an amateur MMA fighter to make ends meet. Nick Nolte plays Edgerton’s and Hardy’s father as a man who, surprisingly, is getting his life together. But it’s too little, far too late for both of his damaged boys, whose own strained relationship reaches a breaking point when they both enter the same fighting tournament.
There are villains in Warrior, but they are side characters: obstacles to be overcome before the inevitable confrontation between two genuine heroes. Both Hardy and Edgerton are stars in their own life-affirming stories, but the outcome of the film cannot favor both of them. There is a winner, there is a loser, and the journey there is fraught with emotional and physical peril that would lay waste to lesser characters.
It’s that very bigness that almost topples Warrior under its own weight. There are no knowing winks at the audience, and although the characters each have their own melodramatic crescendos they are all played thoroughly straight. It’s almost surprising to see how effective this kind of movie can be the filmmakers take it utterly seriously, although there are times when its nuts and bolts filmmaking approach approaches cliché. Luckily, director Gavin O’Connor always pulls back just in time to prevent the film from accidentally turning comical. And the no-nonsense fight choreography is shot with a refreshing lack of post-production trickery. Every punch feels real, and indeed can be felt by the audience. “Oohs” and “Ouches” and “Dear Gods” could be heard throughout the theater at almost every impact, much of the time coming from me.
Warrior isn’t “about” much, thematically. It’s about a small cadre of men with supercharged motivations all seeking the same goals: the grand prize and, of course, redemption. The movie oversells the point, but all the characters are Captain Ahabs and also White Whales, obsessed with toppling each other and incapable of stopping themselves no matter what the cost. And somehow it works incredibly well. Both competing storylines end just the way they should, for better and worse, and the audience feels at the end like we just took a journey that meant something, if only to the people involved. Fortunately, they’re captivating enough that it’s sufficient. This is a truly stellar fight movie, and perhaps destined to go down as one of the greats.
CRAVEONLINE RATING: 9/10