It had been a long time since there was a sports based film that has had a lot of acclaim when “The Fighter” came out last year. Many look back to “Raging Bull”, “Rocky” and the original “The Great White Hope” as its inspiration for making it such a great film with a story that any can relate too. Times have changed and boxing is not as popular now as it was 10 years ago. A new gladiator has stepped up its game in the form of MMA, Mixed Martial Arts. Gavin O’Conner (Pride and Glory, Miracle) has walked into the octagon to change your mind about these individuals and why they may stand the test of time with “Warrior”.
Tommy has just come home from the war in Afghanistan and Brendon is a high school teacher. Two brothers separated when their mom took Tommy away to get as far from their alcoholic father as possible. Both are battling life in different ways. Brendon with trying to make ends meet in a downturn economy and Tommy fighting the ravages and a secret of the war. Both have the ability to fight as Brendon was once an up and coming professional fighter in the UFC and Tommy an undefeated Greco wrestler. How do you make ends meet? What path will they take to get to the ultimate prize? All is at stake. Life will be tested. Family will be stretched and broken as two men are on course to fight for the largest cash reward in MMA history.
Before you shrug this off and think the film is wrought with fighting and blood, as many MMA fights I have watched are, you will miss one of the best stories written. In a time when I am seeing too many remakes of films O’Conner along with Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfmam have put you in the audience to look deep inside these two men that have had different lives yet still share similar same pains. The one catalyst between these two men is their father, who in his own right was a great boxer at one time, but was an alcoholic and favored Tommy growing up. That left Brendon, the oldest, always trying to prove himself.
These three writers get it in your head right from the start that this is not a film about MMA but a film, a story about paths we take. O’Conner takes it the next step by adding his creative directing and giving you the gritty aspect that you could be involved with someone just like these people. It is heartfelt in the presentation you see before you.
The delivery of this story is exuded in the performance by a stunning cast. Joel Edgerton (King Arthur, Kinky Boots) is Brendon, the eldest son of Paddy Conlon played by the everlasting Nick Nolte (Cape Fear, 48 Hours) and Tom Hardy (Inception, Bronson) is the troubled Tommy.
Edgerton shows such passion and want as a father trying not to be what he grew up with. Jennifer Morrison (House, Star Trek) plays opposite Edgerton as his wife Tess, the strong willed, ‘we’ll make it happen’ kind of person that brings out the best in Edgerton’s portrayal as Brendon. The dynamic of these two actors really sells to the audience that this could happen and may be happening to someone right now. Their troubles are mirrors of American society right now.
When it came to casting Hardy as the antagonist, O’Conner hit it right on the nail. You cannot deny Hardy is a physical monster of an actor and I’m not just talking his body. His range of emotions may be subtle at times but is perfect for this person who has so much pain hidden inside. He snaps in an instant from being calm to anger to jovial and pulls you with him to being angered at him then empathizing.
Tying these two together and keeping them apart is Nolte, a consummate actor who has had his share of acclaimed roles and personal tragedies. He steps in and draws upon his own reflection as someone who has seen it all, been on top and hit rock bottom, now trying to make his life meaningful and mend the past so that no one makes the same mistake.
These four actors make up for the bulk of the film with many others filling in to create a masterful story. Their interactions make you feel your own thoughts of times you may have been in their place. You want to reach in and grab and shake them to wake them up to reality.
Even the cinematography lends its part to draw breath of life before your eyes. O’Conner, having done “Miracle”, knew that the feel had to be gritty and real. When you watch the action sequences, yes there is MMA fighting so don’t worry you’ll see some blood, you are part of the fight. Some camera angles are POV, fast paced, capturing the emotion few are able to do so seamlessly.
I do applaud an amazing group of stunt artisans for putting your bodies on the line for a film that may very well give MMA the kick to be more main stream than ever before. I say that with all my heart. As a fellow stunt performer it is tough and demanding to do what these men do on a daily bases. To have your body thrown, wretched, slammed, hit and bruised is not something the everyday person could or would do.
This is an outstanding film. It is what all films should be in that it grabs you and does not let go the entire film. You can try and speculate the outcome but the evidence will keep changing so that you will be constantly thinking. You will cheer during the MMA bouts, you will grip your seat wanting to jump in and help. Grab your friends, your loved ones and go see this film. It is our generations “Rocky” if ever there was one.
Now to my life lesson or as I always do how this movie depicts today’s life. We are in a tough state in our country in that we are pulled in a war. A war on terrorism, poverty, greed, disasters, you name it and as a country we feel we have to be the hero to all. Tommy is dealing with that as a vet, coming home and having to find a way to make right a secret he has been keeping, all the while being the hero. Brendon is the hero trying to make ends meet and be the man of the house and not lose everything. Paddy is trying to be the hero to himself and be better now before it’s too late and he is lost to all. It is something we all reach for. We all want to be the hero. Stand tall and say we did it on our own. Life is not like that though. No one ever is the hero on their own. We are not comic book or film characters, we are human. We have flaws and strengths, moments of brilliance and lengths of failures. As an individual we can stand, as a group we can stand tall above all. When we draw upon our groups strength we mend the weaknesses and provide an unstoppable power, a power that can do good in anyone’s eyes. It is not about us versus them it is about us versus peace and understanding. We are groups of individuals, tribes, banding together to live to our best and be remembered in the end.
Live life loving and not hating, for then we can all have peace in ourselves.
Follow my entertainment adventures throughout Southern California on Twitter @SCThrillsMarc.