Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Reel Review: WARRIOR

WARRIOR just might be one of the most perfectly-titled films in history; you need to be as strong as one to make it out of the ring (or theatre) in one piece. Less about fighting and more about love, family, forgiveness and redemption, WARRIOR will beat you to a blubbering pulp.

Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) was an abusive booze-hound who ruined the lives of his two sons, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), and Tommy (Tom Hardy). Tommy, a former Marine, comes back to his father after years of estrangement, looking for his help in training for a return to Mixed Martial Arts fighting. Meanwhile, Brendan is facing foreclosure and bankruptcy, and also returns to fighting to save his family. A family reunion of sorts then occurs as both brothers wind up competing in a big bucks MMA tournament which eventually has the two brothers, separated by years of estrangement, fighting each other in the final match.

WARRIOR avoids the tired clich├ęs and themes that most fighting films tend to cling to by focusing on its characters, and it’s the characters circumstances that drives everything. It is brother vs. brother, and father vs. son throughout, with each having their justified reasons for seeking redemption.

Where most sports films tend to make the opponent some sort of villain (coughrockycough), director Gavin O’Connor makes the simple, yet ingenious decision to make both fighters someone we want to root for. Our emotions have no idea which way to go by the time the big fight comes around. We want to root for Brendan to save his family, we want to root for Tommy because he wants to help the widow of his dead army buddy, and we want to root for Paddy to be relieved of his pain. The script is incredibly smart and real-world, with no glittery one-liners or overlong, rousing speeches.

The acting trio of Edgerton, Hardy and Nolte really sells the film, with the old man stealing the show This is Nolte’s best work since the 1980’s; the looks of pain on his face as his sons turn their back on him over and over again just goes right through you. Hardy and Edgerton are perfectly cast and are excellent. Smaller roles by Kevin Dunn and Jennifer Morrison are also executed perfectly. O’Conner gets tremendous performances out of everybody.

The fight scenes, just like the rest of the film, goes for heavy authenticity while never losing any sense-of-place. The final match is an exclamation point that goes for an emotional kidney punch and proves that WARRIOR is a true force to be reckoned with; remarkable, unique, and deserving of some serious golden praise. Feel free to cheer and weep upon viewing.


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