We speak a lot about tension and whether the building of it is successful or not. There is a suggestion that what a storyteller really wants to achieve is the successful building of anticipation rather than tension. That tension is a poor substitute. Merely a matter of semantics? No. And all it takes is reading or seeing the difference in a story.
Warrior (2011) doesn’t play coy, you can guess the trajectory of two brothers Brendan and Tommy who pursue fighting for financial gain for respective (and respectable) reasons. You can anticipate their coming to blows in some form or another—any inkling of the story or the witness of the trailer leaves where that meet occurs without question. How the viewer, let alone the characters, arrive at that moment is the real question.
Director Gavin O’Connor takes us on an emotional journey with the pair as individuals, their connection found in the fall-out of their childhood and their father Paddy played by Nick Nolte (who is a triumph in his role). I was blown away at the range of emotions Nolte was able to draw from me through his character. And rather than overshadow the others, he amplifies their own complicated selves. Tom Hardy as Tommy is appropriately elusive, dark and angry, yet wholly convincing when vulnerabilities deepen the torment of his role. I am less familiar with Joel Edgerton (playing Brendan) and his fair looks and open face can take a hard edge. The characterization of the brothers are reflected in their fighting styles. One fierce and relentlessly aggressive; the other seemingly timid in approach, yet enduring. Both are survivors.
Both enter the competition as unknowns essentially. Each of the two commentators favoring one over the other. But the brothers have real demons to face (their semi-final opponents are indicative of some of their demons). They have some issues to work out between them, and while Warrior creates an intellectual understanding of the conflict, Hardy and Edgerton bring the emotions to the fore with increasing ferocity, and with increasing reluctance. Truly, the whole film builds its argument for every side as we head toward a screaming need for catharsis. Because alongside the logic, we become equally convinced and invested emotionally. The soundtrack helps, but the actors truly carry the weight of this film.
Brendan (Edgerton) talks about being the underdog, but both boys have been slighted if not all out imperiled by institutions that their lives had come to depend on. Family (the father and the mother), their respective careers, the bank… Each set out to find their own way, their own families, each with choices and consequences and to varying success, but their very survival can be chalked up to a veritable victory considering. And what about that abusive, alcoholic father of theirs? A man following the story of Moby Dick on tape—what a gorgeous choice of a literary reference for this film and this figure. A man grasping tenuously at the lines the one son has thrown him.
Warrior is a story of familial drama with some heart-pounding fights. Grown men weep, but it doesn’t get mushy. The pacing is a pleasure of the film. Warrior unfolds rather than twists, it creates layers rather than sharp turns. The outcome is truly up for grabs and it would be hideous of anyone to spoil that effect. So if you’ve yet to see the film, do; even if you are not big into Sports films or Fight films as this is a pretty well-rounded film—rounded well enough for me to not mind a few moments of Rocky reminiscence.
Warrior (2011) directed by Gavin O’Connor; written by O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis & Cliff Dorfman, based on a story by O’Connor & Dorfman; cinematography: Masanobu Takayanagi; editing: John Gilroy, Sean Albertson, Matt Chessé & Aaron Marshall; music by Mark Isham; produced by Gavin O’Connor & Greg O’Connor; released by Lionsgate. Starring: Joel Edgerton (Brendan), Tom Hardy (Tommy), Jennifer Morrison (Tess), Frank Grillo (Frank Campana) & Nick Nolte (Paddy).
Running time: 140 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material.
A.O. Scott reviews for the NYTimes, “Mr. Hardy and Mr. Edgerton […] are physically potent actors, but the key to the movie’s effectiveness lies in their ability to convey fragility. These are tough guys, but you can only care about them if you believe that they can break.” […] “While the Conlon brothers are both fighting for the money, the real stakes are much deeper. Though their climactic confrontation is terrifyingly violent, it is also tender. And the most disarming thing about “Warrior” is that, for all its mayhem, it is a movie about love.”
Roger Ebert Reviews, wherein he closes with: “This is a rare fight movie in which we don’t want to see either fighter lose. That brings such complexity to the final showdown that hardly anything could top it — but something does, and “Warrior” earns it.”