Commentary

July 6, 2012

On DVD

Fly Over: ‘Warrior’

by Capt. Tristan Hinderliter

While there may be a few female characters in “Warrior,” the testosterone-charged 2011 drama set against the backdrop of a high-stakes mixed martial arts tournament, there’s no question this movie is set firmly in the world of men. From the battlefields of Iraq to the gym to the cage, there’s little room for women here.

Except for the notable lack of explicit language (the film was clearly trying to keep a PG-13 rating, despite its violence), this is the MMA film we would have expected from David Mamet, instead of the disappointing “Redbelt” in 2008. Nevertheless, this still certainly takes place in Mametland.

Written and directed by Gavin O’Conner, “Warrior” is the story of two brothers and their father, long estranged, navigating circumstances that have led them hurtling back on a collision course with one another. The two hour 20 minute runtime allows for meticulous character development, and the pacing is superb. Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) is a brooding ex-Marine who after 14 years shows up at his father’s doorstep with a bottle of whiskey and a chip on his shoulder. His father, Paddy (Nick Nolte, who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the role), is a recovering alcoholic who may have found Jesus, but not redemption.

A former high school wrestling prodigy, Tommy is a fighter, and the cage and the bottle seem to be the only outlets for an inchoate rage that lurks barely beneath the surface. And while he hasn’t forgiven his father for the alcoholism and violence that tore their family apart so many years before, he seeks the older man’s help to train him for an MMA tournament that will pay out $5 million to the winner.

Meanwhile, his brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a high school physics teacher, has his own problems and is struggling to make ends meet. The bank is threatening to foreclose on the home he lives in with his wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison), and their two young daughters. In order to stave off foreclosure and bankruptcy, Brendan, a former UFC fighter, competes in an amateur fight in the parking lot of a strip club. He comes home with $500, but also with a black eye and beat up face. The school superintendant isn’t thrilled that his physics teacher is moonlighting as a cagefighter, and Brendan is suspended without pay for the rest of the semester. So with nowhere else to turn, he returns to the cage. Under the tutelage of an old friend and trainer, Frank (Frank Campana), and despite the protests of his wife, Brendan sharpens his skills and manages to earn a slot in the competition.

The brothers, long separated, have a confrontation before the tournament in which we learn about their troubled family history and why they haven’t spoken in 14 years.  The sins of their father, which haunt them both, are never fully detailed. They don’t need to be – we see it all in Nolte’s eyes, in the deep creases on his face, in the slump of his shoulders.

At the beginning of the movie, and recurring throughout the film, Paddy is listening to the audio book of “Moby Dick,” Melville’s tale of obsession and revenge at sea. Unlike Ahab, it is redemption Paddy seeks, not revenge, but both men wage an existential battle with their inner demons as they spiral headlong toward the void. The fight sequences are very well done, and both Hardy and Edgerton look like real fighters. Hardy is a brute, with bulging traps and a heavy jaw. Edgerton is lean and muscular, with a build and fighting style somewhere between Matt Hughes and Forest Griffin. With a riveting story, compelling characters and brutal fight scenes, “Warrior” delivers a spectacular knockout.

“Warrior” is rated PG-13 for violence in the cage.



About the Author

Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
Tristan Hinderliter is a full-time Public Affairs Officer and part-time pop culture critic. When he's not listening to the Adam Carolla Podcast, he's usually watching movies. His favorite directors include David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Alexander Payne.


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