Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman
Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn
PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material
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If you’ve seen Rocky or The Fighter or any number of other boxing flicks, then you’ve seen Warrior. New twists, pitting equally-deserving brother against brother and switching from boxing to mixed martial arts, don’t change the basic formulae that have made these kinds of films so popular for so many years.
Part of our culture is celebrating the underdog as he triumphs over stronger, faster and more successful foes. We see in these characaters our own hopes and dreams for victory, yet it’s these very deserving, though under developed stereotypes that lead to unfulfilled goals. These are men whose careers have been defined by courageous or salutatory acts. Yet, in Warrior we have at least one character whose life isn’t too different from millions of others.
This brother, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), was a UFC fighter for several years before settling down with his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) and starting a family. He became a science teacher, a career he loves but which puts him in an untenable financial situation. He has two jobs while his wife has one and they are barely able to meet their bills. When the bank says that they must use a re-valued cost of their house, their mortgage puts them under water, which forces Brendan to consider returning to the ring in order to survive, a prospect his wife opposes. He seeks out his old trainer, Frank Campana (Frank Grillo) to train him to re-enter the non-professional ring.
Brendan’s brother, Tommy (Tom Hardy), has been estranged from his family after his mother left drunk spouse Paddy (Nick Nolte) and never looked back. Aggrieved, Tommy has held a grudge against both his father and his brother ever since they departed. Brendan stayed beyond to be with his future wife in spite of the negligent home environment in which he was being raised. Back in town to begin training as an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter, Tommy has come seeking his father’s tutelage, just as he did when he was a teenager. In spite of his icy relationship with dad, Tommy takes him on as a mentor because he knows he’ll get the best training possible.
What pulls Tommy out of the realism mold his brother’s character so richly fits is that Tommy is a former U.S. Marine and hero who single-handedly saved a fellow soldier in an almost supernatural feat of strength. While it gives his character some nobility, it’s not a very relatable archetype for most who would be inspired by it.
The two brothers collide as they both enter a prize fighting championship where the winner will net a cool $1 million prize. As expected, each takes on men twice their experience and each younger with very little trouble, Brendan having the most challenging time in the cage. When they come together in the final round, you’re not the least bit surprised at this result nor the ultimate outcome.
Predictability is one element of the boxing/fighting milieu that takes all the suspense out of the proceedigns. Even in a film like Real Steel where the resolution is less expected, you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen it all before. A movie like The Wrestler does for this genre what films like Rocky and Warrior cannot, it digs into the meat of the lead charcter, exploring a dark, yet praiseworthy set of traits. Flaws are central to making believable and rewarding characters. Tommy is more flawed than Brendan, but neither have the depth of misery that gives their ultimate victory any palpable weight.
What films like this teach us is that you must be a perfect physical specimen to accomplish what these men have. Neither developed their strengths from an untapped reservoir enabled in the film and that’s where many of us fail to find the role models the movies want us to discover. Most of us don’t have the basis for these characters’ merits, we would have to come from a place too foreign to them in order to succeed, which is in a way self-defeating.
Warrior isn’t a bad film. On the contrary, it can be quite exciting at times, but its all too familiar story arcs hold it back. You can enjoy the film, but will leave only momentarily rewarded before you start remembering back to what you saw and start confusing it with any number of other boxing dramas you’ve seen. That’s not how you create a definitive work.
November 17, 2011