Title: Warrior (USA, 2011) ★★★★ (out of 5)
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte
Date Viewed: September 9, 2011
Summary: The youngest son (Hardy) of an alcoholic former boxer (Nolte) returns home, where he’s trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament - a path that puts the fighter on a collision corner with his older brother (Edgerton).
I am not a big fan of sports movies, and I generally do not actively seek them out. That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally enjoy them, though - take last year’s “The Fighter”, for example. So all the critical praise for “Warrior”, (along with the fact that it features one of my favorite actors, Tom Hardy) made me decide that I was indeed excited to see it. Off I went to the theater on opening day, entering with a preconceived set of expectations based off of the trailer – a couple of hulk-headed dudes, a classic underdog formula with some sprinklings of family drama and a nice, happy, predictable ending.
In a way, I suppose “Warrior” did meet all of those expectations, as well as many other sports movie clichés. Yes, there was a very clear underdog story. Yes, there was lots of family drama. And yes, there was a predictable and (sort of) happy ending. But the difference between “Warrior” and some cheesy sports flick was the way these clichés were executed on top of incredible performances by the whole cast (Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte, especially). The family dynamics were far beyond what I was expecting - so painful and beautifully brought out by the actors. Tom Hardy’s character, Tommy, was especially amazing - isolated, emotionally damaged, and ruined by war. I was extremely emotionally invested in the characters, and the ending just killed me.
Maybe it’s because I’m a sappy person (a bunch of bros in the theater were whooping and cheering while I sobbed miserably in my seat), but I think the most incredible thing about “Warrior” is the fact that you can’t root for just one of the brothers; you root for both of them, so the inevitable fact that one of them must lose the winner-take-all final was just devastating to me. The film was very difficult to watch (lots of brutal beatings and emotional distress), the first half of the movie dragged, there were serious pacing issues, and it felt a little long overall - but the ending made everything worth it. I loved the ending so much that I ended up seeing it twice in one day – first in a standard theater, and again at a theater with a larger screen and enhanced sound (so, so intense, and I ended up crying twice as hard). I’m not saying that “Warrior” is a perfect movie, because it’s not, but by my standards for a sports movie, it comes pretty darn close.
Spoilers after the cut!