Profound. Moving. Emotional.
Wait — is this really the review for a movie that features the brutal sport of mixed martial arts?
Some who may have ignored Warrior in fear of experiencing Not Another Fight Movie might be pleasantly surprised to find something epicly more complex and deep. Two brothers, separated in their youth by their father’s alcoholism, train and compete in a grueling MMA Grand Prix while battling personal demons and hardships.
It seems incredibly cliche, but the precise execution, well-written dialogue, and memorable acting work together to create a brutal and compelling drama where family members, connected by blood, reopen old wounds, cut deeper, and find forgiveness and healing.
Winning the championship in a fight movie rarely seems to be the ultimate goal — it’s oftentimes a metaphor or a symbol or even a badge that a fighter receives once they’ve finally gotten it; they’ve finally become the person he/she is meant to be. Personal issues, relationships, battle scars — these must be overcome, dealt with, reconciled. Meat must be punched. Stairs must be climbed. In the end — a belt wrapped around their waist, hands raised, crowds jumping into the ring to congratulate and hoist up the new people’s champion.
Warrior sets up two brothers on an unpredictable collision course as they seek personal and honorable goals. Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy) returns home to his once-abusive and now-sober father Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte). The father and son combo has a history — together, they dominated as a wrestling coach and prodigy team, but those days are long gone. Both have new goals in mind: Riordan hopes to train for Sparta, an MMA event with a $5-million purse while Conlon sees an opportunity to restart his relationship with his estranged son. Forgiveness, however, is hard to find as Riordan makes it clear that it’s all business, and Conlon hopes to engage his other estranged son Brendan (Joel Edgerton) in hopes of bringing the family back together. Brendan, a retired UFC fighter turned high school physics teacher, fights for money on the side to pay the mortgage. When his superiors find out he’s been doing with his spare time, he’s suspended without pay. The circumstances lead him to enter Sparta for a chance at the prize.
The characters are presented at face value, but things are expertly handled by a film-team that must have had a deep vested interest in making a movie that resonates. Nolte is stirring as the gravely-voiced Conlon patriarch who has turned a new leaf. Conlon’s rehab now requires him to ironically show restraint in situations when others would return to violence. As the brothers, Hardy and Edgerton sport similar accents and features, and chemistry is explosive, especially when Brendan tells his younger sibling that he has forgiven him. It’s a flinch-inducing moment that happens as quick as a jab to the eye, and like a submission hold bending a bone just about to break, there’s a sense of remarkable violence. It is so hard to forgive and so easy to judge. The characters of Warrior learn to forgive because they each see the incredible need for themselves to find it.