Basic Plot: Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy) are brothers living in Pittsburgh who haven't spoken in years, primarily due to the events surrounding their abusive and alcoholic father Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) as well as the death of their mother. They also have experience in mixed martial arts, and end up entering the same, heavily-publicized tournament, all the while the father, now sober, tries to rekindle his relationship with each son.
I'm going to start off by simply saying that this may be the best sports movie ever made. There. It's better than Rocky, The Fighter, Invincible, Remember the Titans, Chariots of Fire, and Cinderella Man. And that's a bold statement, since all those movies are really good, but Warrior is the first one of them to truly take my breath away.
I think it's time for the English language to have a new one for "really great." There's Fantastic, Amazing, Incredible, Stupendous, Tremendous, Wonderful, Jaw-Dropping, and Terrific just to name a few, yet all of these words are used to grotesque amounts when describing movies to the point where they don't mean anything. Words like Riveting and Moving don't pack a punch anymore. Such words are used to describe every "emotional" movie that hits theaters and we need to save cream-of-the-crop words like these for movies that truly deserve it.
Which brings us to Warrior. I cannot tell you how long it's been since I've seen a movie that grabbed from the start, keep me on the edge of my seat scene after scene, and then hit me with a finale so climatic I wanted to cheer. And to top it off, the movie is over two hours long, yet it never drags. Many movies these days tend to be of a similar length yet have a great deal of flab to cut out, especially some absurdly long romantic comedies. Yet I can't think of one moment where I was bored during this film. It's depressing how this is such a revelation to me: that I can actually sit through a movie that's solid from beginning to end. It's startling just how few movies can boast that. If you want, let's compare movies to albums for a minute. Both are hard to pull off. Both have a tendency to drag in the middle or, especially recently, completely botch the ending. And finally, have a majority of works ranging from mediocre to decent, with a few glowing beacons of excellence. So if the film Gigli is the Playing with Fire album by Kevin Federline, then Warrior is the Abbey Road by The Beatles. All the faults I expected (unecessary lovey-dovey sex scene, multiple montages) simply weren't there. It's one of those movies where everything, actors, music, production, cinematography, directing, and writing, came together with such skill and ferocity. It gives this semi-cynic some hope that really great movies are still being made.
I just realized I've barely talked about the movie content itself. So the main conflicts and characters in the movie are the following.
- Brendan has a home with his wife and kids and they are about to be foreclosed. Desperate, he begins fighting again for money and then joins the tournament, the Sparta tournament to be precise, for the $5 million cash prize. He faces pressure not just from the bank, but from the school who disciplines him for fighting. His wife also does not want him to fight, for obvious reasons. And there's the fact he hasn't spoken to his father or brother in years.
- Tommy is a loner and clearly damaged emotionally, and he joins the
tournament for reasons that are never obvious. Later in the film he promises to
donate the cash prize, if he wins, to the family of a fallen comrade, (he was
in the Marines) but it seems just as likely that he signed up just to find some
kind of purpose in life. Or to vent out his anger. It is also probable his
experience in the Marines has traumatized him as well as well as his
experiences taking care of his dying mother, dealing with his uncaring,
alcoholic father, and having to handle it all on his own while his brother
Brendan avoided it all by staying with his then girlfriend. Once Brendan and
his father pop back into his life, he reacts coldly and bitterly to their
- Paddy is a recovering alcoholic, closing in on 1,000 sober days through the 12 Steps program, and it's clear in the movie he emotionally abused his sons. Now sober, he desperately tries to earn back his sons' forgiveness for what he did.
I realize the Paddy section is short, and that's because I cannot reveal much more. Suffice it to say, all three characters are complex and real, with their own motivations and issues. And such characterization is also a pleasure to see in a movie, but you also need the actors to pull it off. Luckily, the performances here are nothing short of remarkable. Joel Edgerton does a fine job playing the more soft-spoken family man of the brothers, yet does so without being a wimpy. He's still a basass underdog, and his idea of making a quick buck is kicking someone's ass in the ring outside a strip club, and then going to work to teach physics the next day with a black eye. Yet you still connect with him on a more tender level. Whenever he struggles in his fights, or with his finances, you feel for him. However, as good as he is, it's Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte who steal the show. Edgerton plays the "hero," as it were. The man we can best identify with, while Hardy and Nolte portray the movie's dark spots, the brooding, and the real, shocking, psychological anguish. Hardy gives a beautifully reserved performance, and I don't mean reserved like sitting-around-with-a-blank-stare like Gosling in Drive, I mean a performance that shows a man clearly dealing with a war within himself. Every glare, every spoken word, is leaden with such bitterness and hurt, and yet he is absolutely brutal in the ring, savagely letting out all the emotions he keeps inside. At first glance he's a terrifying behemoth of a man, yet the more you watch him the more you realize he's also a hurt little boy who needs a family but is in too much pain to accept his own. You are intimidated by him, yet you want to give him a hug at the same time.
Also, Frank Grillo was fantastic as the always-supportive, badass trainer for Brendan.
Now I didn't see The Beginners so I can't say Nolte was robbed of the Oscar, but he delivered such a powerful performance I couldn't believe that he lost. Every scene where he unsuccessfully tries to bond with his sons is so heartbreaking you can feel your chest contract. When he moves, he really does seem like a sad old man, all weariness and haunches. When one son berates him, his face becomes a feeble shield, trying so hard to remain strong, and when the other merely dismisses him, he lights up like a flickering light bulb, excitedly trying every possible strategy, saying every relatable or meaningful topic, just to get his son to turn back around and spend time with him for another few moments. This is heart wrenching beyond words. And when Paddy's alcoholic side is displayed, you can't even breathe.
As a side note, I appreciated how the movie told you just enough to get the emotional rise you needed, but nothing more. What the dad did to the sons and the mother is never explicitly explained, yet you know just how bad it was based on how the sons refer to it. You want to learn more, but you aren't annoyed the movie didn't tell you. This makes you just as hungry for the story as for the fight scenes. This is called subtlety. This is called restraint. This is called good writing.
So writing and acting aside, are the fight scenes good? Let's just say this movie makes the boxing in The Fighter look kind of like shit. And I liked that movie too, but Warrior blows its action scenes out of the water. With a mix of great camerawork, brutal fight choreography, and effective use of tension and lead up, your palms are sweaty during every fight. When the fighters are nervous, you are panicking. When they're panicking, you're about to have a fucking heart attack. And the fights finish in such a spectacular fashion too. I literally raised my arms in the air after most of them without realizing it. When does that ever happen?
So ok Clay, you loved the movie. What sucks about it? Well there's a subplot about the students that could have been cut. The montage is slightly long. The fights keep cutting to these two random guys in the audience, I guess they're producers, but we are never introduced to them and it's super distracting. The ending could have been a tad longer I guess, but that's only because the ending was a resounding, trumpet-blaring kind of finale you don't want to end.
I've read some reviews of the movie, and some people say it's cliché and shameless but I truly don't see where they found such faults. Although the film is about two brothers fighting I never once thought of The Fighter except just now as a comparison, or any other movie. It has its own style, in both the direction and dialogue, and above all else, it truly was an epic, emotional, powerhouse of a film. And Powerhouse is a word that's been used to praise other films, yet Warrior earns it. The movie isn't lazy about pulling your heartstrings. It does it with realism. You buy everything that happens in the film. You feel like you are watching real people in actual situations, in actual physical and emotional torment. And despite this, the movie is fun as hell to watch, with an emotional high I haven't received since, well, ever. And when I say fun, I mean there are some seriously awesome beatdowns. I still can't believe this wasn't nominated for more Oscars. It deserved a Best Picture and Best Actor nod at the very least.
Christ, this review is long. Just go see the movie.
Best Way to Watch: a few hours before embarking on anything you need motivation to do.