Warrior is about two brothers fighting in an MMA tournament, I am not that into MMA or UFC, but the event could be chess or boxing or whatever and it wouldn’t change the basic story or change how I feel about the movie. One’s interest in the sport should not influence one’s appreciation of the movie. Octagons and broken noses aside, Warrior is a cliché-ridden bore half the time and a rousing emotional crowd-pleaser the rest.
Tom Hardy (Bronson) plays Tommy, the estranged brother of Brendan, played by Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom). Tommy has major daddy issues and holds a serious grudge against Brendan for sins of the past. Brendan is struggling to keep his own family above the poverty line and also has daddy issues. Nick Nolte plays the dad in question, once a drunk abuse-machine, now a lonely sober old-man. Both brothers need money, and both are really good at fighting, how convenient.
The problems with the movie are really all in lead up to the tournament. It’s all so heavy-handed, endless scenes of talk about the past and more talk about the past that made me want to scream, “I get it! Can we get to the fighting already!” The movie really wants you to understand how troubled and haunted these characters are, really wants you invested in their redemption. It works. How can it not? But, it isn’t very entertaining.
The only thing that really held my interest during these moments was the strong acting from the three leads. There has been some Oscar talk, mostly concerning Nolte, and while he is really good, I don’t think he’s in that rarefied air. Also, I don’t think he’s the stand out. I find Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte give the same level of quality performance.
The film finally becomes interesting when it stops lecturing about the past and gets to the ass kicking. The fight scenes are competently staged and thematically well executed. This section of the movie has a nice flow and the emotion of the film moves to the forefront. An argument could be made that the lame stuff from the previous acts help inform and heighten these fight scenes, but I’d say only marginally. One doesn’t work without the other, but one is obviously handled better.
Also, I don’t think Nolte’s arc is complete, I could have done with one less cliché and I find it pretty hard to believe that two nobodies could enter such a huge tournament as easily as they do (and I am a very willing disbelief suspender). At the end of the day the movie functions, however minimally, when it was bad it wasn’t that terrible and when it was good it was pretty good.