I'm going to start off by saying I'm not an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) or UFC watcher or fan. It just doesn't interest me. But I was lucky enough to catch a free early screening of Warrior and I enjoyed the hell out of it!
- It’s NOT MMA Fighters Gone Hollywood – At first I was concerned that the movie would be a forced attempt to dramatize the MMA world by casting fighters as lead actors and somehow make a generic action adventure movie that only MMA fans would care about. Thankfully that’s not the case.
- It’s NOT an MMA Rocky movie – It’s actually two Rocky MMA movies. Sort of. You can’t help but root for both main characters. Sure, there’s the struggle to overcome the champ by both of the story’s protagonists, but in the end, each of our heroes have to fight each other (not a spoiler as it’s made clear in the trailer). So you’re rooting for both Rockys to win for entirely different, entirely legitimate reasons. And did I mention that they’re brothers? (see #9)
- There Are Real MMA Fighters Are in the Movie – They’re just not the stars. Of course, pro wrestler Kurt Angle got picked to play an undefeated Russian fighter (really?) named Koba, so no one’s rep (even in fictional movie land) would get hurt by getting their ass beat by actors (even if Tom Hardy looks like he could).
- It’s Got Owen Lars from Star Wars versus Bane from Batman! – The two main characters are played by Joel Edgerton (Owen Lars from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) and Tom Hardy (Eames from Inception and Bane from the upcoming Dark Knight Rises). Edgerton plays a school teacher and family man struggling to pay his mortgage while his estranged brother is played by Hardy, a brooding, menacing character who has been gone from his family’s lives for years when he suddenly shows up on his father’s (Nick Nolte) doorstep asking to be trained to fight again like in the old days.
- Nick Nolte Can’t Get No Satisfaction – Nolte is at his most grizzled and vulnerable (at the same time) as he attempts to gain forgiveness from his sons for his alcoholic past. While one reaches out to him for nothing but his training, the other wants nothing to do with him. It’s a plum role. You can see how his mistakes have hurt his sons and torn apart their family, but you can’t help but feel for the old guy. It’s Nolte’s delivery in every scene that helps you still find sympathy for him, even when his sons refuse to.
- It’s Directed by the Guy Who Directed Miracle – You know that movie about the US Olympic hockey team that brings grown men to tears? Yeah. That movie. Gavin O’Connor returns to the sports movie that takes on the impossible. Makes you care about both fighters in the ring and makes you want both of them to win, even though they can’t and you know that for the movie to be good, shouldn’t.
- But It’s Got a Montage – You can’t have a fight movie without some king of training montage. And while I can’t recall what music was playing over this movie’s montage(s), I can assure you Survivor was nowhere to be found. Thankfully, the montage(s) wasn’t overly long, goofy, or earnest. They told you that these guys had to train. And that’s it. It kept the story moving.
- No Lame Storytelling Callback Crutches – You know those movies that awkwardly posit a scene near the beginning of the film that really doesn’t seem to have relevance to anything, but then later, when the hero is about to meet his defeat, he suddenly remembers back to that moment and it gives him an idea or inspiration to try something he hadn’t thought of before, thereby overcoming his foe and winning the day? Well, that doesn’t happen in Warrior. THANK YOU! But I got worried when the film featured a scene involving Edgerton teaching his students about physics and equal and opposite reactions. Sure, it was a nod to the subtext going on with his father and brother, but it could have been something much worse. I sat in the theater, fearing that when Edgerton’s character, Brendan Conlon, was grappling with a particularly ruthless fighter (and losing), he was going to flash back to that moment in the classroom and think “Physics! If I just apply pressure in the right way, I can…” It didn’t happen. It didn’t go cheesy on us. If that had happened, I would have immediately hated this film. That’s all it would have taken.
- Brothers Battling for the Championship? Really?! – Okay, I have to admit that I thought that such a thing felt a little forced and unlikely at first, but it works. First, it’s not the MMA championship or whatever. It was a big money exhibition where certain people got to qualify based on their skills (and luck) to be admitted into the event. What matters more is that they pursue their championship goals completely separate from each other. It’s not like they’re best pals that are forced to fight each other. They are brothers in name only. And when it comes down to the fight, it’s the REASON they fight that causes the conflict for the viewer watching the film. Brendan (Edgerton) fights to save his home and his family. Tommy (Hardy) fights for reasons that are not immediately clear, but if you watch the trailer, you will see that he appears to be a war hero (there’s more to it, but I’m not spoiling it). Both have worthy reasons to fight and win the tremendous amount of money that could change their lives, but only one can win it. And that means one brother has to beat the crap out of the other until he stops moving.
- It’s Brutal & They Don’t Wuss Out On the Final Fight *NO SPOILERS* – Throughout the film, each fight is bloody and brutal, and the final one between brothers is no exception. I will not spoil the ending but I will tell you this: they don’t end with a mushy “we’re all winners/I could never hurt my brother” tie. One wins, one loses. And it goes further than I expected, with a truly satisfying end (even though I did want to know a little more when it was all over).
In the end, hardcore MMA fans should love this movie despite the quieter dramatic storytelling moments and movie-lovers should love it even if they don’t care one whit about Mixed Martial Arts fighting. It’s in theaters now and well worth your dollar (or twelve – thankfully not in 3D).
In case you’re wondering, this is a movie you could take your kids and your grandparents to. It’s got some strong language, but lots of violence (duh). And the sexiest the movie gets is Jennifer Morrison (House) in her undies (which I didn’t mind a bit).