We’ve had the gritty world of professional wrestling in The Wrestler, the gritty world of boxing in The Fighter, and now here’s the gritty world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) in Warrior. While it is indeed gritty in look, Warrior could not be more fictional, being far more similar to a Rocky film than Raging Bull.
It tells the story of two brothers and their father. There is a lot of venom between them, due to the death of their mother and the drinking of the father. Both brothers participate in a huge fighting tournament in order to win 20 million dollars. With the bad blood between them we know that they will eventually fight each other. Essentially this means that at every stage and in every fight we know who is going to win, in order for that brotherly climax to come about. With this level of predictability the film needn’t be two and a half-hours. That said, the fights are well choreographed and you feel every punch or kick. The filmmakers also do the astonishing job of making ground wrestling interesting.
So the story is ridiculous and doesn’t work. However, you go along with it due to the strong performances of the central characters. Tom Hardy plays the older brother, an army deserter who has deep anger issues. Hardy is brilliant, truly frightening, and watching this it is exciting to speculate on what he might do as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. In the tournament he is a mysterious, dangerous figure whom no one knows. This is simply stupid, for in a competition this size everyone would be a big name. What is even more unbelievable is that no one knows that he and his brother are related. When it is revealed this is so totally fictional as to be irritating.
Playing his brother is Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who was so brilliant in last year’s, somewhat overrated, Animal Kingdom. Here he plays a teacher who is fighting in order to keep himself from bankruptcy, which leads to silly lines such as “Knock that guy out or your going to lose your house!” Why they would have a teacher who is unknown to the public in a tournament of this level is beyond me. He is a very likeable underdog and we do root for him, but his story is frankly nonsense.
The father of these two is played by Nick Nolte, who gives his best performance since The Thin Red Line. An ex-alcoholic, he is now sober and trying to make amends to his family, but they are having none of it. Nolte is great at showing a once violent and volatile man who is now trying to repent and mend his ways. His vulnerability is quite extraordinary. Unfortunately Nolte over acts in the scene where he slips briefly into his old habits. The tears and drooling are far from subtle and his characterisation is cheapened.
The film’s tendency to verge towards the improbable is bizarre. The wrestler Kurt Angle plays an evil Russian fighter whom everyone fears, a character far more suited to Hollywood films of the 1980s. The scenes involving Edgerton’s pupils and work colleagues cheering him on in his fights also belong to a work of utter fiction. The realistic look of the film is in juxtaposition with all these over the top additions and with the plot, which is nearly as ridiculous as Enter the Dragon.
There is not an ounce of originality. With the training montage they desperately try to do something different by using split screen techniques to show the progression of both fighters, but it simply ends up looking like a sequence from 24. Warrior furiously tries to push our buttons and it all ends in far more tears than seems necessary.
Nevertheless, the film is not a total disaster. The performances are fantastic, and the fights are brutal and well executed; but this is over sentimental childish entertainment.