Film Review: Warrior (2011)

Warrior is an MMA-fighting drama heavy on the schmaltz and light on the character development. Once you learn a major player's backstory, there's nothing else to learn about them. They might have some secrets hidden in their past, but they have no bearing on the behavior of the characters in the film. Warrior is a static exercise in melodrama that can still leave you feeling thrilled in the final few scenes. Brothers Brendan Collin (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Collin (Tom Hardy) used to be fighters. Brendan is now a physics teacher fighting on the side for extra cash while Tommy is a drifter. Tommy only wanders back into the picture because he wants to enter the 16 man middleweight MMA tournament with a prize of $5million for the winner. He submits himself to his former alcoholic father's (Nick Nolte) training regime, forcing the two brothers to cope with the reintroduction of their abusive father into their lives.

Warrior

Warrior thrives when the focus is put on the fighting. The bouts seem real, dangerous, and exciting. Without the hindrance of very expository dialogue, the actors are able to use their physicality to better define their roles. You might not remember all of Tommy's absurd backstory, but you will remember his refusal to stay in the ring once his opponent is knocked out.

Writers Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis, and Cliff Dorfman are far too ambitious with their screenplay. There are four major plots that are all given equal weight: Tommy's past, Brendan's financial problems, Tommy and Brendan's shared history with their father, and the 16 man MMA tournament. The stories aren't so much resolved by the end of the film as thrown together at the last possible moment in a scene that makes the evil twin fallback of daytime soap operas seem subtle and grounded by comparison. Any of these stories could have been a good ninety minute action/drama. Instead, Warrior presents four half-baked stories broken up with strong fight scenes.

The cast does what they can with the poorly defined characters and lackluster plot development. Tom Hardy is strong as Tommy. You believe that he's had a terrible life and is just trying to do one thing right. He's gruff, he's mean, he's completely self-centered, and you can't take your eyes off of him while he's onscreen.

Less successful is Joel Edgerton as straight-edged brother Brendan. He's supposed to be the good guy, so he doesn't take one step out of line in the whole film. Sure, he takes up fighting again against the the wishes of his wife, but it's ok. He's a good father, a good husband, and he is doing everything he can to provide for his family. Edgerton is stuck with playing the infallible straight man and does not come out of the more melodramatic moments looking good.

Nick Nolte as the recovering alcoholic father is all over the place. I can't tell if what he does is good or not because the character is so ill-conceived. Is saying the father was an alcoholic enough to imply the horrors he inflicted upon his family? It has to be. That's all he's given to work with. Ironically, the scene where his character can't even stick to that small bit of development is when Nolte soars onscreen.

It would be one thing to deal with unwelcome melodrama in a sports picture if it was technically well-made. Though beautifully shot, Warrior has serious issues with sound design. Any scene not taking place in a ring or cage is delivered at barely audible layers. The actors all whisper their lines and nothing is done to augment or support the sound. I feel fortunate to have watched this at home because I was able to crank up the volume for non-training/fighting scenes and drop it down to human levels for the overly amplified fight scenes. There's something to the idea of the world being a quiet and calm place outside of the octagon for the two fighters; it doesn't have to be done in such a literal way.

In spite of its flaws, fight fans will probably walk away cheering from Warrior. I'm admittedly not the biggest fan of sports films and found myself really getting into the training montages and tournament scenes. If Warrior had focused on that rather than schmaltzy manufactured drama, it would have been a great film. Instead, it's a film marred by too much poorly drawn exposition and not enough momentum.

Rating: 6/10

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