Warrior (2011)







THE SCOOP
Director:  Gavin O'Connor
Cast:  Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton
Plot:  The youngest son of an alcoholic former boxer returns home, where he's trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament.

Genre:  Drama / Sport
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Supporting Actor
Runtime:  140min
Rating:  PG13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material.

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Last year, there was The Fighter (2010), the Oscar-winning boxing drama directed by David O. Russell that saw Christian Bale and Melissa Leo bag the golden statuettes.  This year, we have Warrior, a mixed martial arts action drama that follows the tradition of The Fighter.  

Helmed by Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, 2004; Pride and Glory, 2008), Warrior is a rousing, inspiring motion picture that is a potent mix of action and drama, while maintaining a tight balance between the two.  This is a film that is as much about the action as it is about the drama that unfolds.

Starring Tom Hardy as Tommy and Joel Edgerton as Brendan, it is established in the film’s first hour that both of them are brothers.  They have an extremely strained relationship because of an unforgivable past family incident.  Their father Paddy (Nick Nolte) attempts to reconcile with his sons, but is only successful to a limited extent.  

Separately, Tommy and Brendan join Sparta, a grueling mixed martial arts tournament.  Both have different motivations to win the top prize of US$5 million.  Their motivations are clearly set up, though not in a straightforward way as the film takes its time to establish the delicate relationships among the abovementioned characters.

What makes Warrior such an excellent film is not its action sequences, which are no doubt stunning to watch, but how the film positions its dramatic material in such a way that it becomes indispensable to the whole cinematic experience.  Watching action on screen has no meaning unless substantiated with a well-developed narrative that raises our interest in the characters and their individual stories.  

O’Connor knows this and despite a lengthier runtime than what is usually the case, his film effortlessly immerses the viewer into the tough, competitive world of mixed martial arts.  Although the film begins in a seemingly lackluster manner, the payoff at its climax is certainly satisfying.

The performances in Warrior are exceptional.  Hardy and Edgerton give solid displays that remind of Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980) and Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter respectively.  The underrated Nolte gives a nuanced performance that may give the Academy some food for thought.  

As an action film, Warrior is one of the best you will ever see this year.  With some outstanding camerawork and editing, Warrior is thrilling and exhilarating.  A “training” montage mid-way through the film that is accompanied by a clever remix of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy by composer Mark Isham is a particular standout.

It is fair to say that even though Warrior is an excellent film, it does not break new ground in relation to its genre.  The film follows a predictable path, but through its strong emphasis on drama and characters, Warrior successfully transcends the average feel-good sports picture and delivers what it promises.  And what it promises is a bang-for-buck film that will leave you smiling as you exit the theater.  Recommended!

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)





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