WARRIOR. Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, and Jennifer Morrison. Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Rated M (Violence, mature themes and infrequent coarse language). 139 min.
This is an American fight movie, involving turbulent family dynamics. Tommy (Tom Hardy) is a mixed-up veteran from the Iraq War. He is killer-soldier, war-hero, and deserter, and he approaches his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), for help. He wants his father to train him for a lucrative fight competition. His brother, Brendan (Australian actor, Joel Edgerton), is a popular and quietly-spoken physics teacher, who lives with his wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison) and his two daughters in a house that has a crippling mortgage. Tommy is haunted by his tragic war-past, and Brendan desperately needs money to avoid financial ruin. The movie interestingly captures two major contemporary issues in the US - the Iraq war, and the real-estate financial crisis.
The two brothers enter a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competition, called “Sparta” with a $5 million cash prize for the winner. MMA is a full contact sport that allows the use of grappling and striking techniques, and its growing popularity in the US is beginning to rival the draw-power of wrestling and boxing. Brendan practices MMA to earn extra income for his family, and Tommy was the school wrestling champion when he was a teenager and needs extra training to be able to win at the sport.
Paddy was an alcoholic, who terrorised his family, and his drinking forced his wife to go. Now, he has stopped drinking and is asking for forgiveness, but Tommy does not want to reconcile with him at all. He tells his father he must stay away from trying to mend their relationship, and Brendan is just as resentful. For different reasons, Brendan, Tommy and Paddy are vulnerable, and relationships among them lie at the heart of the movie. Despite the aggression of MMA, and what the two brothers want to do physically to each other, the movie focuses down upon the human bonding between the brothers that has gone wrong.
The movie doesn’t apologize for its violence, and there is a lot of it, but the director, Gavin O’Connor, keeps a watchful eye on the psychological dimensions underlying the relationship between the two brothers, and on their feelings towards their father. Brendan and Tommy in the final round of Sparta fight for the crowd, and for the money, but also desperately need to reach out emotionally to each other.
Nick Nolte is outstanding as the father, and the performances of the two brothers are almost as good. There are some great scenes of family tension. Tommy and Brendan meet on the beach at Atlantic City, and the negativism of their relationship, which has been cemented over time, is played out very powerfully. So too, are the scenes of Tommy, who has cruelly devastated his father, and who returns to say that he is sorry.
The final battle between the two brothers, in the tournament they both have to win, occupies a lot of space in a very long movie. The movie leads inextricably to reconciliation, and ends up over-stressing the patriotic gloriousness of the human spirit as the camera pans to the phalanx of US soldiers that has come to Sparta to cheer Tommy on. The movie’s final scenes, however, showing the attachment of brother-to-brother pull back from the melodrama, and are very moving.
This is a film that aims to satisfy several different kinds of audiences at the same time. Its fight scenes are staged highly effectively, and the movie emotionally captures the human drama that unfolds. The two themes, fight appeal and relationship bonding, struggle at times for supremacy, but the film seriously engages the viewer on both fronts, and holds attention.
Excellent cinematography, fine editing, solid acting, and competent direction all contribute to making this movie a possible contender in the Oscar stakes at next year’s Academy Awards.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 27th. October, 2011.