I was expecting this film to be very much a Tom Hardy vehicle, which to say it isn’t is misleading, however, the star of this story and the film is not Hardy but rather Joel Edgerton of Animal Kingdom (2010) fame. Edgerton plays Brendan Conlon, a Physics teacher and a family man who is struggling to raise money to prevent his house from being repossessed. So, unbeknownst to his wife, he resorts to participating in organised car park Mixed Martial Arts fights for some extra cash. However, Brendan’s appearance at the school after a late night fight results in him being suspended and so he has to find other means of making money. The story is constructed of two very different strands, that of Brendan and the other of Hardy’s ex-marine and former wrestling prodigy Tommy Riordan, who arrives out of the blue at his recovering alcoholic father’s (Nick Nolte) house with a desire to train for Sparta, a huge Mixed Martial Arts competition with a big money prize in Atlantic City. Predictably, the two strands collide as we see both characters compete at Sparta and their backstory and relationship becomes clear.
It is good to see a fighter, Brendan, portrayed as an intelligent family man, especially juxtaposed with Tommy, who is the typical silent and moody juggernaut. Both have very different fighting styles, Brendan, the underdog of the competition, uses tactics whereas Tommy bulldozes his competitors with fast hard punches in a few seconds. Hardy’s sheer physicality is visually astounding and his psychotic look that he has perfected in previous roles such as Bronson (2009) satisfyingly appears in the fight scenes. He certainly confirms himself as a Brando-esque force, portraying a moving vulnerability at the end of the film, which is all the more pronounced due to his massive muscular body. Edgerton’s performance is much more restrained but you still find yourself rooting for the underdog.
There is the inclusion of the obligatory training montage, with use of split screens and multi-windows, and whilst the fight scenes are extremely realistic, there is nothing outstanding or original to set this film apart. The gradual reveal of the character’s stories is nicely structured, with the Iraq scene coming as quite a surprise, and there is plenty of sentiment, perhaps a little too much. Nolte feels rather underused but is still outstanding, particularly in a scene where he goes off the wagon and we also see a softer side to Tommy for the first time.
The film takes a while to get going and is a little on the long side, choosing to add plenty of backstory to the characters and ensuring viewers can’t possibly miss the sentimental family message at the heart of the story. However, the fight scenes are extremely realistic and I found myself completely drawn into the second half of the film. It is predictable and not as edgy as I was expecting but it is authentic and engaging. Unfortunately, even though a lot of time is spent on developing the characters, they felt obvious and at times clichéd. The film portrays MMA in a similar vein to WWE (or WWF as I knew it – I was a huge fan of The Undertaker) which, after watching the extras, seems accurate and I would certainly be more interested in seeing some real MMA now.
Warrior is an entertaining film with some great acting and some absorbing fight scenes but the story and characters did not live up to my expectations and felt predictable and at times bland. I never felt like I truly cared enough about any of the characters but the realistic fights draw you in enough to see it through to the end. Edgerton is a revelation but both Hardy and Nolte are underused, with far too much mumbling in the scenes they do have together. A mediocre story utilising some fantastic actors with far too much sentiment for my liking.
There are plenty of extras on the DVD including a deleted scene with commentary. I didn’t really know anything about Mixed Martial Arts before watching this film and I found the ‘philosophy in combat’ extra gave a great insight into MMA and the art of the fight. ‘A tribute to Charles “Mask” Lewis’ is a nice insight into the life and personality of the co-founder of Tapout, who was going to be in the film and helped the director with pre-production but tragically died before production started. There is a cast and crew audio commentary as well as ‘Brother Vs Brother: Anatomy of the fight’ which shows the planning and rehearsals of the choreography for the final fight scene and a vaguely amusing gag reel. An addition of an interview with the two main stars and how they prepared for such roles would have made the extras top notch.
Warrior is hitting DVD and Blu-ray on 20th February 2012.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writers: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman
Stars: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton
Runtime: 140 mins