By now, competent directors have no problem staging an exciting fight sequence – especially in the context of the bruised-and-battered underdog sports film. Just copy the action in Rocky. Or The Fighter.  Or The Karate Kid. What separates a competent entry into the genre from a exemplary one is the directing that happens outside the ring.

Warrior is a criminally overlooked film. It’s a critically acclaimed box office flop that failed to recoup its modest $25 million budget despite being an entry in a genre known for its popular appeal. The only explanation for its dismal performance can be attributed to one of two things: it’s really stretching its “underdog” label to the limits or moviegoers spent their eleven bucks to see robots duke it out instead (oops). In either case, it’s well worth a view and easily on my list of the best films of 2011.

At its heart, the film is about a broken family. Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) is a current teacher, ex-fighter, and estranged son and brother. His father Paddy (Nick Nolte) is a recently reformed alcoholic, but his newfound religion and clean living doesn’t exactly endear him to Brendan or his other son, Iraq veteran Tommy (Tom Hardy). The shadow of an abusive and vicious upbringing still clings to the two brothers and makes them incapable of forgiving their father.

Fortuitous events lead both brothers to be selected as competitors in an elite MMA tournament called Sparta – a winner-take-all event with a five million dollar purse. Just guess which two fighters make it to the final round. While it may follow the predictable underdog arc, Warrior partly refreshes the tired formula by providing not one, but two protagonists that equally deserve to be victorious.

To say that the invigorating fight scenes are the weakest part of the movie is to attest to how strong of a film this is. Brilliantly shot and choreographed, the camera weaves around the bruised and battered fighters as they slug it out in the octagon with vicious intensity. I especially liked the brutally efficient fight scenes with Tommy as he takes down his opponents like a rabid dog. But it’s the scenes in between the fights – Tommy and Brendan having a tense talk on the beach after a bitter estrangement, Paddy trying to reconcile with his two sons and failing – that are the standouts of the film and elevate it from a fairly typical and predictable sports drama to something more.

If there was any justice in awards season, Nick Nolte would win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his performance in this movie. He won’t (Christopher Plummer will – mark it down on your Oscar pool), but it’s  a muted and understated performance that is the best I’ve seen this year. There’s a scene after Nolte has had a fight with Tommy that mostly consists of his character quoting Moby Dick that is heartbreaking. Even though he’s just a supporting character, Nolte is the emotional centre of the film.

The biggest weakness (in my opinion) is the ending of Warrior. While it is thematically necessary for the film’s twin themes of forgiveness and redemption, it’s a scene that stretches the believability of the narrative and strains the story’s credibility. That being said, it is the only dramatically satisfying way to end the film, so this may be a moot point.

With an incredible performance by Nolte, a tried-and-true formula with enough of a twist to make it feel fresh, and great fight scenes, Warrior is well worth your time.

Grade: A 


3 Responses to Warrior

  1. Julia Turnbull says:

    Wow, I had better see this film.

  2. Nostra says:

    Yeah, it seems a lot of people didn’t watch it, although it is getting great reviews (it even appeared in the IMDB top 250). I enjoyed it too, despite some cliches and the unbelievable final fight. The fights were intense.

    • Modest Movie says:

      The fights are really intense but I’m still shocked by Nolte’s incredible performance. Easily the best I’ve seen this year – I would give him all the awards he could carry.

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