Warrior (2011)

I want to be skeptical about sports movies, but something hard and rough inside my soul dies and melts away when I watch one, even one that’s not very good.  Little Giants and The Big Green pack an emotional punch for me, even if they’re far worse than, say, The Sandlot or Remember the Titans.  This is even true for movies about sports I don’t enjoy on a regular basis.  For example, I don’t really like baseball, but I love Field of Dreams.  I don’t watch boxing, but I thought Rocky was a great movie.  And I’ve never seen an MMA fight, but Warrior had me in a headlock at hello*.

Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are estranged brothers, both with experience in MMA fighting.  Neither has talked to their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), in years. Paddy hasn’t even met his newest granddaughter, because Brendan won’t let him; not without reason though- Paddy is a recovering alcoholic and used to abuse their mother.  However, as the movie begins, Tommy seeks Paddy out to ask him to be his trainer.  He wants to compete in Sparta, which is the Super Bowl of MMA fighting.  Tommy’s main motives for fighting are made clear later in the story, but how animalistic his fighting style is suggests that taking out his anger on others is the only way to live with himself.  Brendan, a former pro MMA fighter, needs money to take care of his wife and children and to pay  for health care for his daughter, so he seeks training from an old friend.  This endangers his job as a high school physics teacher, but the money from winning the championship is too tempting for Brendan, as is the adrenaline rush of being back in the ring.  This family is about as dysfunctional as they come; Tommy and Brendan have as many problems with each other as they do with their dad, and these deep-rooted grudges come to a head in the inevitable but thrilling climax.

Warrior easily could have been gimmicky, but director Gavin O’Connor avoids schmaltz and easy plot machinations with great actors and a script that respects its characters’ real-life problems.  During the scenes of exposition, O’Connor lets the actors direct the flow, giving them room to fully inhabit their characters.  Hardy, in particular is convincing in a wide range of emotions.  The fight scenes are knockouts**, brilliantly staged, exciting and brutal, as they should be, but they also achieve more catharsis than we’ve come to expect from these kinds of movies.

In most sports movies, you know who wins the final game/match/bout/race/round from the get-go.  Here, it’s a coin toss*** or a split decision****.  You do know from the beginning that these brothers will face off, but when it comes, you genuinely don’t know who will win. But it’s the only way it could have ended.  The final catharsis is truly amazing.

Great movie.  Warrior reminds me of one of my favorite sports movie, Field of Dreams, in that it takes the themes of manhood and the relationships men have with one another and knocks them out of the park*****.

*bad pun #1 (bonus points for reference to a famous quote from another great sports movie)

**bad pun #2

***slightly relevant bad pun #3

****bad pun #4 – alright this is getting sad

*****bad pun #5 – not even the right sport, I’m done…

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