First off I’m no fan of mixed martial arts. So is it possible that I would find something interesting in a movie about the sport? When the movie is wonderfully constructed and features an amazing cast, the answer is a clear and profound “yes”. In fact, while the MMA sequences are intense and extremely convincing, they take a back seat to a story that digs deep into a broken family’s seemingly unsalvagable relationships.
Director Gavin O’Connor’s film is a mix of these hard-hitting MMA action and intense family drama. O’Connor, best known for his 2004 film “Miracle”, has a knack for emotional sports pictures. But what makes “Warrior” so effective is it’s focus on the characters and the development of the painfully complex family dynamic I alluded to earlier. This is so much more than a feel good sports movie and it was easily one of my favorite films of 2011.
“Warrior” is a story of two brothers who were split apart as a result of their parents divorce years earlier. Tommy (Tom Hardy) is an ex-Marine who has just returned from Iraq. He’s a tough but troubled individual still struggling with the scars of his parents split as well as his own baggage from his military service. Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a high school physics teacher with a wife and two kids who finds himself on the verge of losing his home due to hard financial times.
The two cross paths after they both enter the Sparta Mixed Martial Arts Tournament, each driven by their own desperate motivations. Nick Nolte plays their father whose drunken past was responsible for the family’s destruction. But he’s turned his life around, becoming a Christian and approaching his 1,000 day of sobriety. His desire for forgiveness and reconciliation clashes with the brother’s individual resentment which makes for some strong emotional sequences.
Even though there is plenty of realistic MMA fighting, particularly in the second half of the film, this is a character driven picture. What makes the characters work are the straightforward and earnest performances. Tom Hardy is riveting as the bitter, hurting, and rudderless Tommy and his performance should have garnered Oscar consideration. He’s a commanding presence in front of the camera and sells every scene. Joel Edgerton, who is fantastic in everything he’s in, is equally strong as the more grounded Brendan. He’s a committed family man and his performance feels authentic and genuine. And watching Nick Nolte hear is great. He tackles some of the film’s tougher scened and reminds us of what he’s capable of doing when given good material.
“Warrior” could easily be misconstrued as a typical feel good sports movie. While it does dabble in a few clichés that we’ve seen in many sports pictures, it’s the wonderful chemistry between the cast and the beautifully conceived family moments that make this an unforgettable film. The MMA action is bone-jarring and brutal and you can feel each punch and kick. But at it’s core this is a brilliant and heartfelt character study brought to life by some strong acting and a rock solid script. It’s a film that has still stuck with me since I left the theater.
I keep hearing really good things about this but like you haven’t watched it due to my total lack of interest in MMA.
You sound exactly like me. I have no interest in MMA. But the cast really attracted me to this and I loved it. Gone it a shot.
I haven’t seen this yet. After reading your review, though, I might just give it a shot.
It’s 100% worth your time. Great performances and the tense family dynamic is where the main story is that.
Hi Keith, long time no see 😉 I really enjoyed this one, I think I’d agree w/ your rating. All three actors were fantastic, it was the first time I saw Joel Edgerton and was truly impressed. I don’t see it as just a sports drama, it’s more of a family drama that involves sports.
Thanks Ruth. I’ve taken a brief vacation to do some things around the house. Gotten behind on my reading as well. You sum up my thoughts of the film perfectly. It’s truly so much more than a sports drama.
Ah I see that’s why I haven’t seen you commenting on my TCFF coverage 😉 Well hope you had a nice one.
Believe it or not I have been reading them. And as always I’m jealous that I’m not there. 🙂
I do plan on going back through them though and bookmarking some of the films that have interested me. You’ve mentioned several cool projects that I’m unfamiliar with.
Good review Keith. There’s still something about the ending to this movie that felt totally deserved, but also, very melodramatic. I don’t know how I feel about, even to this day. But nonetheless, still a very good movie.
Thanks man. I responded well to the ending. But your criticism does have merit for sure.
My favorite film of 2011. At the end of the year it was at the top of my list and I recommended it to anyone who would listen. You do the film justice with your review and I’m glad you got past your indifference or aversion to MMA. I’ve never seen an MMA match in my life, but this emotionally affirming movie has less to do with the action than the motives of the brothers and their monster of a father. Everyone is seeking redemption and some achieve it in unexpected ways. Bravo.
I’m with you. I remember it making my top five of 2011. I also remember having the exact same reaction when I went back to revisit it later. Such a great film.
4.5 sounds right Keith. I gave it the same. Excellent movie that far more than a mere sports flick. I loved it.
Same here. And wasn’t Nolte fantastic? This was a performance that brought him back on the scene.
Note was amazing. I was rooting for him at the Oscars but for the life of me, I can’t remember who won now. Any ideas?
Yes, Christopher Plummer won. Nolte did get nominated and I was rooting hard for him. Unfortunately he didn’t win.
That’s right! Plummer for Beginners. As good as he was, Nolte deserved it more.
This was also one of my faves of 2011. Agreed, Nolte should have won Oscar gold. He is that good in this movie. An so is Tom Hardy. And Joel Edgerton. And I have zero interest in actual MMA.
I’m with you 100%. Those three performances were the big keys to the film’s success. Great work from the cast.
Nice review for a very good film. Nolte was excellent in his role.
Great to see you love this film too, and it adds just more credibility to Gavin O’Connor’s directing style to affect non-fans of the sport. (I don’t follow MMA myself either although I do like boxing.) I don’t honestly know who was better: Hardy, Edgerton or Nolte. They were all just incredible.
Great point. You’re right. The entire cast was incredible. Sharply directed and very well acted. Awesome flick
I hear a lot of good stuff about this and so many keep recommending that I see it, and I have it on my waiting list, I guess I really just need to get onto it at some stage. Very good review Keith!
Thank you. Yes, add me to the list of those who highly recommend that you see it. I really think you’ll appreciate it.
Hahaha, alright then you are another name to the list. I didn’t take the one recommendation seriously because the friend who recommended did MMA, but everyone else seems to reckon it doesn’t focus solely on that.
Nope. Not at all. I’ve never watched an MMA match but really loved this. It’s just a backdrop to a much more compelling story.
Then I am on it.
Great review. I am a MMA fan, and I really liked this. So it appears to please everyone. Hardy and Edgerton were both really good whilst Nick Nolte’s performance was out of this world I thought. I should give this another watch actually. Don’t think I have seen it since the cinema release.
That’s some cool insight. I was wondering how it played with MMA fans.
Really enjoyed this. Another great example of Hardy’s chameleon-like abiity to disappear into a character.
So true. Hardy was fantastic. On the surface he would appear to be a one one-dimensional character but that’s not the case at all. And Hardy’s performance emphasizes that.
Keith for some reason I keep skipping over this on Netflix. Maybe your positive review will push me to finally check it out.
Awesome Review Keith. You mirror most of my sentiments in my Review earlier:
It’s a brilliant movie, which I think didn’t get the reception it deserved. Very underrated I think. Put Joel Edgerton on the map for me.
I’m with ya 100%. I’m a big fan of Edgerton. I first saw him in Star Wars Episode III but it was “Warrior” and “Animal Kingdom” that really caught my attention.
I don’t even remember from EPISODE III! :O Must check it out now. lol.
Yep. He played a young Uncle Owen.
Such a great film… two phenomenal performances.
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