Warrior seems to be an attempt to create a modern-day Rocky; a less kind reviewer might say it’s trying to ride the coat tails of last year’s The Fighter. It is not successful. That being said, it is not a terrible movie, just one lacking in (maybe too) many areas.
The film stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as brothers Tommy and Brendan, two former mixed martial arts fighters who, for their own reasons, return to the sport. Also featured in the film are Nick Nolte as the pair’s father, and Jennifer Morrison as Brendan’s wife; a bevy of professional wrestlers and MMA fighters also appear. The film is directed by Gavin O’Connor, whose previous directorial projects include 2004’s Miracle and 2008’s Pride and Glory.
Of the film’s many weakness, perhaps most striking is Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Tommy, who is completely unlikable, though we are clearly supposed to sympathize with him. The British Hardy, perhaps in an attempt to hide his native accent, spends the entire 2 hours (give or take) doing what seems to be a (bad) Sylvester Stallone impersonation. I’m not sure. Considering that Hardy has shown himself to be a fantastic actor in the past–as seen in Inception and Bronson–this is both weird and off-putting. Only at the very end, literally the last 5-10 minutes, does he earn any sort of empathy from the audience.
Edgerton, on the other hand, turns in a very good performance as the likable brother. Unfortunately, he is also the source of most of the film’s wasted time, as there are constant, pointless cuts away to his students and boss’ activities while he’s at this tournament. It also doesn’t help that his wife comes off as kind of overbearing.
Nick Nolte, though, steals the show, turning in what may be his best performance in quite a while. He is incredibly convincing as a broken down old man who is trying to make amends for his past failures as a father and husband, only to be rebuffed by his sons at every possible turn. There is a scene towards the climax that was particularly moving, more so than the sum of the rest of the film’s parts.
The other, and perhaps more unforgivable, flaws in the movie are twofold. First, there are long stretches in the first hour or so that are just…boring. In an attempt to set up the stakes for the brothers, the story just slows to a crawl, picking back up only when the central conflict, the “Sparta” tournament in Atlantic City, begins. The other is the incredibly shoddy way in which the fights are filmed. The camera spends far too much of its time either too far away from the ring, too close to the fighters, or too much behind the heads of the crowd, to be able to tell what’s happening. I certainly understand the compulsion to make the viewing audience feel as though it’s there, a part of what’s going on, but doing so at the sake of clarity of story and scene is always a mistake.
All of that being said, there are some fantastic tense moments, and some incredible dramatic beats. Tom Hardy’s character being greeted by a group of Marines singing “Marine Corps Hymn” is great; the realization of who will be fighting in the final round is great (assuming you haven’t seen the trailer); and a couple more that I won’t specify for the sake of spoilers. The tension in some of the fights, Brendan’s in particular, is palpable. And the film has a better-than-average score, which certainly helps.
All in all, Warrior is probably not a film that is going to be remembered as particularly special. It is also not the worst way to spend a couple of hours, though you’d probably be better served staying home and watching Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, or Raging Bull. So, Warrior gets a middling 3 out of 5 pitchforks.