Steeped in the throes of Greek tragedy, Warrior takes chamber-piece family drama to the arena of MMA. Knowingly playing with clichés and being able to deliver on familiar grounds can be just as difficult to execute properly. It is no small task, but the film is able to deliver. The first hour is a lot of set-up. It is transparent where almost all of these scenes are going, but it conveys them with an unexpectedly quiet meditation. This gives the actors and the circumstances they have to play a refreshing amount of room to breathe. By the end, proportions of such raw physical intensity are reached that you can actually feel the decades of family dynamics being brought into the arena. The result is a well-earned cathartic finale as powerful as anything I have seen this year.
The film is written and directed a few notches above competency by Gavin O’Connor, but the real power lies in the hands of the three leads. Edgerton takes a fairly flat character beaten down by external forces and sells us empathy as a seemingly hopeless underdog. Tom Hardy achieves a kind of introspective intensity that is something to behold. Decades of estrangement and past dynamics have been so clearly defined in his head, that his dialogue evokes a perspective of factual simplicity reminiscent of a child. And Nick Nolte is devastating as the haggard father trying to shake his previous actions that all but define him far too late in life. His eyes desperately cling onto his sons for any semblance of forgiveness.
All of the melodrama and emotions are boiled down into a pure testosterone-driven sweat, served up for consumption for the audiences in and of the film. It even impressively follows through on the MMA side, with multi-dimensional choreography that is a mite too shakily filmed.
Going into the final scene, the stakes are more than felt, and for all of the nitpicks I could have, Warrior ultimately packs too much an emotional punch to dismiss. There is no bad guy here; just two brothers whose unfortunate pasts have never left them. It all leads up to the moment they grapple with redemption in the ring.
Afterthought; Warrior is not the only film to have two equal protagonists enter a combative sport. South Korea’s fabulous Crying Fist did it in 2005. Seek it out.