Who doesn’t love an underdog story? How about two of them? Sure WARRIOR presents one clear cut underdog story within the plot between feuding brothers, but I believe that both are underdogs even if they are vastly different types of them- more on that later. I’m a huge fan of feel good movies, especially ones involving well done family drama and WARRIOR is a film that will have you cheering one second and teary eyed the next.
Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns home to his recovering alcoholic father, Paddy (Nick Nolte) after his mother has died and some other mysterious troubles that are plaguing him to have his estranged father train him for a Mixed Martial Arts tournament that has a $5 million purse. Tommy is also at odds with his brother Brendan who is a former UFC fighter and now teaches for a living and has a wife and kids but is on the verge of losing his house. After convincing his former trainer to enter him in the MMA tournament, Brendan finds himself on a path to go face to face with his loose cannon of a brother for the top prize.
Family drama like the one presented here in WARRIOR I find immensely watchable and powerful to watch. The film is similar to THE FIGHTER in that way, where the concept is frayed and familiar but the performances and the direction elevate the proceedings in profound and engaging ways. The writing towards the end takes a lot of short cuts to put things where the audience knows it’s going but the end result and emotional weight it carries was more than enough to have me fully on board and rooting back and forth for each character.
When I say that there are two underdog stories in the film I mean that both Tommy and Brendan have different types of underdog stories. Brendan is the more obvious one, given his smaller stature to other fighters in the tournament and the clear long shot to actually win. Tommy is big and tough but is far more reckless and undisciplined and motivated by nothing but pure emotion and anger which can be more harmful than helpful. Tommy is less of an underdog because he has muscle mass and power on his side but he qualifies because he is unproven at the pro level like the other fighters. The two brothers have vastly different fighting styles- one pure power and the other finesse and relies on submission instead of knockouts. When the two brothers square off emotionally without their fists the tension is just as high when they start pulverizing each other in the cage.
The performances are top notch from Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton- Hardy is full of rage and heartache from his childhood all the way to more mysterious motivations where Edgerton is very calm and collected but you can sense his nervousness and frustration in what little he shows. Nick Nolte didn’t steal the show for me, but he really did make my heart break as the father seeking forgiveness from his sons for his mistakes especially the scene where he begs to see his grandchildren. The most surprising emotionally heavy scenes is during the brother to brother fist fight which may be the only time you’ve seen a someone say I love you in the midst of throwing fists and it is incredibly touching and tear inducing.
The biggest complaint I can put forward aside from the convenient writing set ups lies in the character of Tommy. He was both my favorite character and the most frustrating because he spends most of the film playing crazy loose cannon with a mysterious past and he shows some very incredible moments of compassion and heart. The problem is it that at times it’s hard to connect with his thought process or motivation, but at the same time it’s that complexity and unpredictability that makes him so fascinating. Tommy’s tough thick skin is also what makes those softer moments hit so hard which just also makes the writing feel as if it’s trying way too hard to manipulate the audience.
If WARRIOR proves anything it’s that Tom Hardy should be a household name. Hardy paints a character that’s full of nothing but raw emotion and rugged attitude that he just lights up the screen. It also proves that Nick Nolte is still capable of giving a genuine performance and not just cashing paychecks by playing “random crazy guy.” WARRIOR is a testosterone filled sports flick and a hard hitting family drama that strikes a surprising emotional balance without leaning to heavily on either and alienating any specific audience.