Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

You are forgiven for thinking you have seen it all before. Warrior, from director Gavin O'Connor, shares plenty of DNA with the fight-centred Oscar-winner The Fighter. Both films deal with fractured blue collar nuclear families that will either be healed or broken forever in the catharthis machine that Hollywood convention has long decided is the modern fighting ring (a boxing ring in the case of The Fighter, a mixed martial arts “MMA” ring in the case of this film). Both films feature brothers on a collision course. Both have little weight attached to the decisions of their female characters. Both feature black sheep family members struggling with addiction, shame and mistrust.

In Warrior, the sport is different, and the brothers are not just metaphorically clashing - their battle actually takes place in the ring itself. Both films share one other feature - they are both put together well enough and carried along by a watchable cast that allows them to paper over their many cracks.

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The story beings with the sudden appearance of Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), after 14 years away serving in the US Marines, back on his father Paddy's (Nolte) doorstep. Paddy, long considered a useless and abusive drunk by Tommy and his also-estranged brother Brendan, has no idea why his son is back or what happened to him in Iraq where he was serving. Tommy wants just one thing from his father - train him to fight so he can enter the Sparta MMA event due in a few months, with a million dollar payout as the reward.

Having trained both his sons in wrestling before things fell apart, Paddy knows the tricks of the trade and agrees, clearly hoping to reconnect to his son. Against a background of a moodily shot post-industrial Pittsburgh, with sweaty gyms and grey skies, the two begin to the task of getting Tommy back into shape. Hardy is an immediately striking presence in these early scenes, though no wild thug, there is a coiled tension about his character. But why is he back from Iraq? And what does he need the money for?

In a neat coincidence, Tommy's brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), over in Philadelphia, is also bound for the Sparta contest. Though he, too, has seen nothing of Tommy or his father for years, and is seemingly secure on a different path as a successful school teacher, he is drawn back into the ring by financial problems. He and his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) have three jobs between them and still can't make the mortgage payments. Though a considerate and intelligent man with a stable family life, Brendan is a fighter in a different way from his younger brother - he is not a quitter.

Against his wife's objections, he convinces his old sparring partner and MMA coach Frank to get him back into shape and put him into Sparta as a wildcard. Edgerton uses the early scenes to differentiate his character from Hardy's - helped by the cinematography and set design, which emphasise his more privileged white collar surroundings, his training gym is very sunny and upmarket compared to the sweat pit Tommy is stuck in.

It is to Edgerton and the script's credit that his character does not fade out against the more fiery presence of Hardy. Brendan is charismatic and nuanced, albeit with hints of his father's stubborness about him, but also he's clearly the underdog of the two and the one we sense is more at physical risk.

As the two brothers edge closer and closer to a face-off in the Vegas-like neon glamour of Atlantic City, more background details emerge. Tommy is seemingly driven not only by resentment of his father, but also by his sense that Brendan betrayed him which, coupled with trouble stemming from his exit from Iraq, means an explosive confrontation is on the cards.

Director O’Connor and writers Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman have a deep enough script and capable enough actors to add a decent amount of layers to what is undeniably a derivative and quite predictable plot of bitterness, resolution and redemption. O'Connor and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi also lay on some visceral bouts in the ring, thoroughly exploiting the fact that mixed martial arts makes for a less predictable combat sequence than a boxing match might.

The soundtrack is suitably meaty, and the cast and stunt doubles - who themselves apparently needed doubles given the abuse dealt out - throw themselves in with abandon. It's impossible not to get carried along as the final epic bout looms, as the last third of the film gives over almost entirely to combat.

But there isn't really anything here that has not been seen and done before, and the cathartic end that we know is coming doesn't feel as deservedly earned as in other fight films. The separate and parallel paths of the brothers is interesting to observe and creates a sense of anticipation, but keeping them apart so long also denies the characters the chance to make their intertwined history resonate more, and makes the inevitable resolution something of a cheat.

Perhaps if the film's narrative had drawn Nolte, Edgerton and Hardy together for more scenes (Nolte feels sidelined in the last third) and been less reliant on unlikely coincidences to keep the plot going, Warrior would have been a more satisfying meal.

Reviewed on: 31 Aug 2011
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Warrior packshot
Two brothers face the fight of a lifetime – and the wreckage of their broken family.
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Director: Gavin O'Connor

Writer: Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman

Starring: Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Noah Emmerich, Kevin Dunn, Bryan Callen, Frank Grillo, Denzel Whitaker, Fernando Chien, Kurt Angle, Gavin O'Connor, Jake McLaughlin, Hans Marrero, Brenna Roth

Year: 2011

Runtime: 139 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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