Reviewing movies isn’t normally something I do on this blog. After watching Warrior about 15 times in the last month, however, I’m willing to make an exception. One of my friends from Sci Fi and Sushi recommended it to me back in January, and I figured I’m give it a shot because I’m shaping up to be a Tom Hardy fan. Why? Besides his solid acting, he’s a celebrity that actually looks like a guy–he’s a throwback to the 80’s action heroes I grew up with, a modern monument to the entire decrepit cast of The Expendables.
I’m sorry, but we need more guys like Tom Hardy in cinema after this two-decade parade of Depps and Blooms if only to make mainstream women interested in men again.
So I got into this movie expecting it to be like Never Back Down–somewhat shotty writing, but with the kind of martial arts action that makes you want to pump iron and turn off your brain. I was okay with that. I hadn’t heard about Nick Nolte’s Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor, which I feel was entirely deserved. I also didn’t know a thing about Joel Edgerton despite his portrayal of Uncle Owen in Revenge of the Sith.
When you have kids, these things slip by you. I haven’t gotten out to see a “grown up” movie since Prometheus, and before that, I think it was Avatar. Seriously.
To say that Warrior exceeded my expectations would be a gross understatement, but as the title of this post states, I’m extremely biased. Let’s look at why.
While Warrior does contain the kind of hype one would expect from a movie about MMA fighting, it has a solid script that centers around a very believeable broken family. Paddy Conlon (Nolte), a retired Vietnam war vet and recovering alcoholic, comes home to find his estranged son, Tommy (Hardy), sitting on the steps. The acting and dialogue in these first scenes between Hardy and Nolte sucked me in. I was no longer concerned about the MMA backdrop for the script; I wanted to know exactly what had happened to make Tommy and his mother leave and what had happened since that time. I wanted to know what remained between Tommy and his older brother, Brendan, who Paddy goes on to explain is a high school teacher with a wife and two “beautiful little girls”.
Then it hit me:
I have a younger brother named Tommy who, without getting into details, has been troubled most of his adult life. I also happen to be a high school teacher with two little girls. And just like the brothers in this film, and I assume all brothers since the beginning of time, we once fought a bitter war for our father’s love.
After that dawned on me, I was hooked. Viewing my brother and I as allegories for these characters (whatever, we all do this) now made it difficult for me to root for Tom Hardy, but I still wanted to see his side of the story unfold as well.
Cut to the scene of Brendan having his face painted by his two girls and his wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison) bantering with him about their financial situation. At this point, I was on Brendan’s side. The similarities kept pouring in. Here was a suspended teacher (been there) trying to stave off bankruptcy and keep a roof over his family’s head. I could relate. It’s no secret how defunct the education system is here in Arizona, and as I’ve griped about before, I haven’t had a raise in five years. In fact, I recently went through two horrible garnishments and a half a dozen settlements to avoid bankruptcy.
When faced with foreclosure, Brendan Conlon’s response to the possibility of bankruptcy was the same as mine: “That’s not how I do things.”
We also meet Brendan’s students, who are almost as awesome and supportive as mine.
While Brendan’s situation was tugging on my heart strings, Tommy’s story satisfied my need for good ol’ manly kick-ass-ness. I mean, here’s a guy who wipes the floor with seasoned MMA fighters in practice and rips the doors off tanks. If my brother, who is physically much more imposing than I am at this point, ever became an MMA fighter, his style would be this brutal. I, on the other hand, have been in martial arts since I was knee high to a grasshopper (pun intended), and would probably sport Brendan’s more tactical approach.
Truth be told, I’m more of a puncher, though. Now my older brother, who is a black belt in jiu jitsu…
Both brothers need trainers for the mega-tournament at the end of the flick, of course. Tommy bunks up with his estranged father, who was his trainer when he was a junior Olympic gold medalist in wrestling. Brendan, after a tear-jerking scene in which his father tries to reconcile with him, instead reconnects with his former trainer (with whom he had a rad bromance?), Frank Campana (Frank Grillo).
Now, the character of Frank Campana is about 99% like one of my best friends and former martial arts trainer, who I have recently begun to associate with again as well. He has the same philosophies, unorthodox training methods, and love of good music.
At this point, watching this movie was getting kind of eerie. Seriously strange.
Cut to a training montage with a manly version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. I wasn’t a fan of this part the first time I watched it, but it’s grown on me after multiple viewings. At least this montage was different from your typical Rocky ripoff.
Of course, both brothers end up qualifying for the mega-tournament. While naming the tournament “Sparta” and writing in a massive, undefeated Russian combatant (Rocky IV much?) seemed easy, I was okay with both of these choices. I’m hooked at this point, remember? And I’m the target audience.
Bring on the martial arts action and commentary from two men who have never been in a fight in their life! The brawls were satisfyingly brutal, and the choreographer managed to make jiu jitsu look like more than two Neanderthals humping on the ground. Unlike most real MMA fighting (my opinion), these bouts were actually exciting to watch.
At the same time, the family redemption story supercedes all this. Brendan and Tommy meeting in Atlantic City after not seeing each other for a decade and blaming each other for the loss of their mother was heart breaking. Learning exactly what happened to Tommy during his tour of duty in Iraq was both believeable and disturbing. The crowning performance, of course, was Nick Nolte’s drunken Captain Ahab scene, which quite honestly makes me bawl no matter how many times I see it.
No wonder they nominated him for an Oscar.
Of course, the two brothers end up fighting at the end. Brutality vs. technique. Rage vs. strategy. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any more epic and hauntingly familiar, Brendan dislocates Tommy’s shoulder. Tommy refuses to tap and goes the last two rounds with one arm. Standing between Brendan and saving his family–not just his house at this point, but his family–is his honor.
Ever wonder if a movie or a book was written specifically with you in mind? It’s narcissistic, I suppose, but that doesn’t really change how I feel.
The prevailing theme in Warrior is not some shallow, macho message, but that family will always find a way to reconcile. Maybe that’s the thing I find the most comforting about it. That I even can apply adjectives like “comforting” to a brutal MMA flick probably demonstrates better than my biased musings just how different and underrated this movie is.
That said, I sincerely hope they don’t ruin it with a sequel.