Family Is Worth Fighting For
It’s so very difficult to make a decent fight flick. Rocky really set the pace, demonstrating if the drama takes precedence over the actual fighting, the final conclusion is that much more emotionally rewarding. Then Raging Bull came along and showed that the glory is not nearly as impressive as the fall. Finally, The Wrestler tugged on heart strings by demonstrating the overwhelmingly depressing/inspiring nature of dedication. These three are what I would consider to be the quintessential contemporary fight flicks; there are other valiant attempts (last year’s The Fighter for example) but few come close. Warrior, on the other hand, seems to combine all three, the underdog, the ex-fighter, the family man, the dedication, the gritty underbelly, the loyalty, the drama – all of it. What’s more, it does it exceptionally well.
Nick Nolte plays Paddy Conlon, an alcoholic who has been attending meetings and been sober for nearly three years. One day, completely out of the blue, his youngest son, Tommy [Hardy] appears on his doorstep. Having not seen each other for fifteen years, their exchange is naturally quite uncomfortable; Paddy, sober and desperate to reconcile with his son, is suitably hurt that Tommy wants nothing to do with his father. At the same time, we are introduced to Paddy’s other estranged son, Brendan, [Edgerton] a high school physics teacher facing foreclosure on his mortgage. In an attempt to raise the money, Brendan begins fighting in car park mixed-martial-arts bouts but once the school board finds out, he is quickly suspended without pay. As the story progresses, we learn that Tommy has in fact deserted the marines, after promising to take care of a fallen comrade’s family. Unbeknownst to each other, both Tommy and Brendan sign up for an MMA tournament that pays out five million dollars to the winner; Brendan trained by an old friend and Tommy (reluctantly) by his father. As the tournament unfolds, truths are revealed about Tommy’s past and the public begin to cheer on both contenders – but, naturally, only one can win.
As stated above, every fighting tick-box is checked but at no point does this make the film feel cheap, saccharine or force-fed. Driving this entire production are three key performances, that of Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. Outside of the obviously gruelling fighting and training elements, the portrayal of two brothers burned by their father’s alcoholism and respective childhood traumas is genuinely wonderful to behold. Translating what is clearly a very close subject for the screenwriters, these actors completely embody and project that betrayal, lack of trust, insecurity and continual spurning of reconciliation. Aside from the stunning performances, Warrior is an incredibly well constructed film: the pacing is flawless, building momentum slowly before emotionally slapping the audience repeatedly, the camera work is a decent combination of stable and disorientating, without venturing into blurry ‘I can’t see what the hell is going on here’ territory, the cinematography jumps back and forth between suitably dark, grainy and gritty then bright and steady, neatly reflecting the lead characters. Essentially, this film achieves everything that didn’t work for O’Connor’s last directorial outing, Pride and Glory. The struggle, the family drama, the alcoholic father issues, they’re all present but cohesively meld together to form a stupendously solid and tender tale. On top of that, the score, while not overbearing or really that noticeable, seemed to decently contribute to the on-screen action, even if the execution was a little paint-by-numbers. Which would be fine, if the composer wasn’t Mark Isham, who has produced some incredibly impressive pieces — The Cooler Quiz Show and The Hitcher to name a few.
Of course, this film is far from perfect and although it deserves a meaty nine out of ten, there are some obvious gripes and flaws. First off, an area in which all fight films seemingly suffer, the supporting cast (outside the three lead males) are very two dimensional and serve a very singular purpose. Jennifer Morrison is the wife who doesn’t want to lose her husband but eventually supports him, Kurt Angle plays the unstoppable Russian contender (yeah, seriously, didn’t even realise it was Kurt Angle until the credits) who is literally just that, Frank Grillo plays the ever-supportive trainer and.. well, I could continue listing but there’s no real need, you get the idea. I really don’t think any fight film has it got it right because to ensure you keep the intensity and pace of the contender’s struggle through training, you can’t really sidetrack to supporting threads without losing an immense amount of momentum.
As far as family dramas go, Warrior is brutally compelling. I can only hope this movie deservedly finds an audience without being written off as another scrap-fest designed solely for immature men/boys.
23rd September 2011
The Scene To Look Out For:
When the brothers meet for the first time in fifteen years, there ‘s an exceptionally tense atmosphere. Brendan wants answers, Tommy meets it with hostility, the two go back-and-forth a bit and finish no better than when they started. Tommy clearly doesn’t have it in him to forgive any family member, not his drunk father or his brother who stayed with him, seemingly blaming them both for the death of his mother. Equally, Brendan knows nothing about Tommy’s life or suffering and demonstrates a clear frustration when his attempts to reach out to him are met with, “Why am I looking at pictures of people I don’t know?” It’s an almost agonising scene that I’m quietly confident anyone with a sibling can relate to at times.
It’s hard to say really, being two sides of the same coin, something doesn’t feel right about picking either Edgerton or Hardy. Neither one outdoes the other but almost compliments their respective performances. If I were to highlight the performance I was most surprised by, it would have to be Nick Nolte. I usually can’t seem to take the man seriously but I think everything Nolte is bled out in this performance and I would say it’s one of the finest moments of his career.
“You don’t knock him out, you lose the fight. Understand me? You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home”
In A Few Words:
“Warrior is every bit as emotional, powerful and brilliant as you could expect and (despite the cliché) the best fight movie since Rocky”