In Warrior, we follow two brothers, played by Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) and Joel Edgerton (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) who both seek out mixed martial arts as a way to either solve or ignore their problems. Thrown into the mix is their (former) alcoholic father played by Nick Nolte, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.
This movie’s first half focuses on the journey that brings these two men back to mixed martial arts and reveals their motivations for fighting. Tommy (Hardy) is doing it to find a new sense of purpose, as he’s plagued with guilt and anguish over past mistakes. Brendan (Edgerton) is doing this for the big prize money which could save his family from bankruptcy. Tommy’s journey is one of destroying the competition completely, while Brendan’s is more of an underdog story, as he’s a physics teacher who no one believes could survive in the ring.
Both men (Hardy and Edgerton) are fantastic, in drastically different ways. Hardy is completely destructive, both in terms of physicality and then in terms of being self-destructive. In the ring, Hardy’s fight scenes are visceral and intense and almost hard to watch. All of this anger and resentment flow through him and it’s extremely compelling. As he finishes the matches, he leaves the ring and bulldozes his way back to the locker room, ignoring all sense of ceremony and celebration. You can almost see on his face that these fights are not rewarding but are seemingly the only things he’s good at. It’d be easy for Hardy to be the villain in this story but cleverly we’re given information about halfway through the film that paints him as a hero. Watching him try to cope with being a hero is very cool, as his attitude completely contrasts how the world is treating him. He doesn’t say much, but the scenes that he shares with his brother and his father show us a wealth of experiences that have led up to this point. While we’re not given all the details, enough comes out in these conversations to show us how Tommy and Brendan became so different (yet ultimately very similar as well).
Edgerton’s Brendan is also an interesting character to watch. As opposed to Tommy, who is a loner and just trying to survive, Brendan has a family and a seemingly normal life. When told that the bank might take away his home, Brendan resorts to underground MMA matches to make money. The family dynamics involving his wife and kids are interesting, as well as the facet that he’s a high school physics teacher. Just a weeks ago, I saw Here Comes the Boom and was actually pretty entertained, but Warrior does a better job at showing the true consequences of competing in an MMA environment. Brendan is beaten and destroyed in nearly every match (as opposed to being a dominant force like Tommy) but his will and determination make him a character you want to root for.
And as these two brothers become more and more entangled in this world, watching their dynamics together becomes increasingly enjoyable and yet tense, as you’re just waiting for the tightened string to snap. The bonecrunching final climax had me on the edge of my seat and on the verge of tears at the same time.
That is the heart of why this movie succeeds.
While the second half of the movie is basically all MMA matches in a tournament-style format, it’s not really about the fighting. With every punch, you can see that this is just a way to survive, or a way to save those that you care about. The fighting will appease most people, as the choreography is incredibly realistic, but the soul of the movie is in these two brothers and what they’re fighting for.
Nick Nolte as their father is also a compelling character. When he was raising the brothers, he was an abusive and alcoholic father. And now, he has alienated his sons so much that they both refuse to have any sort of father/son relationship with him. It’s tragic as he tries to mend these relationships only to fail time and time again. There’s some great work here by Nolte.
What doesn’t work?
It’s very clear what Edgerton’s Brendan is fighting for, but the mysterious Tommy is never really given clear motivation. Is it just for the money? Maybe I missed a pivotal piece of information but it seemed like Tommy just came back to town and decided to enter this tournament. They are definitely clues given about what he’d do with the money but he just kind of comes out of nowhere. But since Hardy is so engaging in this role, you don’t really care about his motivation for long, as he begins to destroy the competition.
This movie is brilliant. It’s got some incredible action on a superficial level but the complexities of this family and their relationships are extremely rewarding and compelling to watch. Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte all deliver fantastic performances and even people who don’t much enjoy the UFC or similar mixed martial arts showcases will still find plenty to enjoy here.
Warrior is currently available to rent or buy, as well as streaming on Netflix.