Yet another fight movie…
“Great!” *rolls eyes*
Let me set up the scenario for you before you walk into the movie theater. The good guy will go against the obviously bad competitor. Our hero will be beaten down, but ultimately crawl back to become the victor. Don't forget about the inspirational speech from his coach, too. HOWEVER…
WARRIOR is completely different!
Finally there's a movie that allows the viewer to have an internal fight over whom to root for. We inherently want the good guy to win. But, like in life, we know that there are two sides to every story. WARRIOR gives us two true-to-life characters that carry their own scars and motives. They are neither good guy nor bad guy. They're just people.
We're introduced to two brothers. Tommy Riordon (Tom Hardy) shows up at his father's doorstep, popping pills and drinking booze. A very surprised Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) ushers his son into the house, and rejects the offer of a drink. Paddy is nearing is 1,000 day of sobriety, but instead of encouragement, Tommy reacts with disgust. In fact, it seems Tommy has returned to his father's house after a stint in the Iraq War as a Marine in order to exact verbal revenge on his once abusive father. Drawn back to his former wresting roots, Tommy joins a mixed martial arts gym. In time, Tommy decides that he wants his father to coach him in the16-man MMA battle “Sparta” in hopes of receiving the $5 million payout.
Meanwhile, Tommy's older brother Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) is living the life of a family man. He is a high school physics teacher and father of two. We also discover early on that Brendan's family is in dire financial straits because of medical bills due to his daughter's heart surgery. The wolves are at his door, so Brendan fights in a parking lot MMA fight which leads to his suspension from his teaching job. With a month before he loses the house, Brendan decides to start training for local MMA fights in hopes that the cash payouts would keep his family afloat. Only through serendipitous circumstances does Brendan find himself in Sparta and vying for the opportunity to solve his family's financial problems.
The thing that makes this movie different, is that no one is the bad guy. Tommy's desire to win the contest is revealed, and it puts a surprising twist on the movie. In the same way, the anger shared between Brendan and Tommy is strong and realistic. Paddy's actions have left a severe rift in the family and it's not one with an easy fix. Edgerton and Hardy play their parts to perfection. In life there are no easy answers, and these two fellas are spot on with that angst. Nolte does a great job at being the lonely old man, writhing with guilt and the desire to repent his actions. For myself in particular, I've never been able to understand much of what Nolte says, so some things were lost in the noise of the movie, but that's hardly to be taken as a criticism.
While I am no expert of MMA fighting, the action of the movie is often cringe-worthy and shot in a way that leaves much of the impact up to one's ears and imagination. And we all know how spectacularly powerful an imagination can be. Perhaps there were a few instances of 'couldn't ever happen' within the rules of MMA, but it doesn't take away from the movie whatsoever. Ultimately, Warrior is a movie of seemingly real life conflicts, setting up the audience for a moral struggle throughout the entire film. There are no winners, there are no losers.
There are just people.