Warrior is a film that holds nothing back as you witness the colliding lives of three estranged members of a family as issues, both new and old, arise. The story follows three main characters. These characters are brothers Tommy and Brendan Conlon and their father Paddy. This film follows the brothers separate struggles, both of which lead to the Sparta MMA competition in Atlantic City. Tommy is a bit of a drifter who reunites with his father after a number of years and seeks him out to be his trainer so he can win this competition. He isn’t really given any motivation to win and really he doesn’t speak that much, but when he does you can sense everything you need to know about him. The other brother, Brendan, a high school teacher, has a wife, two little girls, and a home that’s about to be foreclosed on. He attempts to bring in some money to stop this by participating in small fighting tournaments which end up getting him suspended from the school that he works at. This leaves him only one option: to participate in this mass fighting tournament that could get him five million dollars quickly. It isn’t a very complex plot-line but it’s executed very well.
The thing that really keeps this film afloat is the relationships between the three leads and the performances that make them feel so real. The oldest brother, Brendan, is played by Joel Edgerton who really surprised me with his stellar performance. His greatest scene in this film comes in the ring against his brother and he conveys such great emotion through his face in that moment and it really left me astonished. The anguish and hesitance in that moment pains his character so much and it shows. The younger brother, Tommy, is played by the always excellent Tom Hardy in one of his best performances. Tommy is the more complex of the two characters and his extra backstory makes for a multi-layered performance. Tommy is a man full of shame, regret, and, more than anything, sheer anger. Tommy is not proud of what he has done in his past and he takes this shame and turns it into this animosity towards the world. It’s clear that the events through his childhood shaped this quiet figure that you are watching on screen, and this is all able to be inferred through Hardy’s incredible portrayal that adds something more to the character.
Then third major character is Paddy Conlon, the father of the two brothers played by Nick Nolte. This is the real standout performance in a film full of standout performances. What Nolte achieves here is nothing short of spectacular as the formerly alcoholic father who has managed to reform his life by getting sober and finding Jesus. This character in itself sounds like a bit of a cliche but in the context of this film it is anything but that. Nolte inhabits the character with a blend desperation, power and humility that results in one of the best performances of last year. Paddy regrets what he put his children through and even with his changed nature he knows that they won’t accept him. The most heartbreaking scenes in the film occur between him and either of his sons as he begs to be an important part of their lives, and they just deny him anything. There is one scene in particular where he shows up in from of Brendan’s house to tell him about how he just reached his 1000th day sober in attempt to prove that he’s changed. Rather than doing anything resembling some type of acceptance he just denies his father any access to his life. Nolte’s frailty in this is scene is truly marvelous, as is his entire performance.
At this point I think I’ve established that the acting is strong enough to carry this film but there is more to it than just the performances. The director Gavin O’Conner really did a great job capturing the atmosphere of the films surroundings. Take, for example, the fights at Sparta. Everything from the energy in the crowd to the commentators, cameramen, and every other aspect of the experience is accounted for. When this all comes together it manages creates a series of very well-shot scenes with a great atmosphere. There’s also one other scene that I have to praise the director and the several editors for. It is a law in sports movie that they have to have a training montage that gets the viewer excited for what’s to come, and this film has one of the best training montages that I have ever seen. Due to the split story-line (One for each brother) there are two entirely different training regiments being done. In this one several minute segment you get to see each of them train and during these training clips you also get to see essentially ESPN clips regarding MMA and the upcoming Sparta event. It is extraordinarily well done and one of my favorite scenes in the film.
All in all Warrior is a one of the best sports films to be released in the last several years. It is an engaging story filled with remarkable acting and great writing. Well worth the watch.