The Warrior – 2011
Directed by Gavin O’Connor
Starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo
Written O’Connor, Cliff Dorfman, Anthony Tambakis
A recurring theme for Warrior is the tale of Moby Dick, which is being read, in audio form by the father of the two main characters, Paddy Conlon (Nolte). He is a formerly hard-drinking man, weighed down by years of abusing himself and others, and on the road to recovering from his disease. The white whale, it would seem, is the effect his past had on those who loved him, and now, love him no more.
These people, exhibited in the form of two sons, Brendan (Edgerton) and Tommy (Hardy). Both sons are a mystery to their father and to each other, since a fateful decision by their now deceased mother to leave with Tommy years ago. Brendan did not stay so much to be with his father. He had a girlfriend, Tess, who eventually became his wife and mother of his two children. Tommy, back from the war after serving in Iraq, has brought the habit of boozing, along with taking pills, when he stumbles back into his Dad’s life.
It is not by accident, that he is here. Why this happens, I will leave for you to decide. Suffice to say, the need of the son is not outweighed by the that of the father. Neither of their needs will be met for some time. There is some serious work to do.
In the same town, but might as well be 1000 miles away, Brendan is eking out a living with Tess. Having had some serious medical issues with one of the girls, they made it through, but not without a considerable debt on their heads. Brendan makes a rash decision to go back into prize fighting. This decision gets him, strangely, in trouble with the school district where he works. He is suspended, even more strangely, without pay, for just about the amount of time it would take for them to lose the house and possibly more. This also goes against the wishes of his wife, but as we know, there would not be a movie if he did as his wife said.
Tommy, meanwhile, has started to train in mixed martial arts himself. He is pretty good, too. Good enough to knock the number one contender to the belt senseless during practice. This caught on video by someone and then placed on YouTube. The resulting fame gets him into a tournament, with a chance at winning $5 million dollars.
Brendan, through a much longer and harder journey, is heading for the same goal. What they do when they get to the tournament, I will leave for the viewer. It involves one of the more unique split frame sequences I have ever seen. The intensity is also unlike anything I have seen outside of a Rocky film. Comparing this to that series would be wrong, though. This movie has 2 riveting storylines and a 3rd, bittersweet one that ties them together with a web of deep sorrow.
The sorrow, expressed through the deeply sad eyes of the haggard and worn Nolte. His eyes have taken the path of sorrow in real life. His bouts with the bad stuff are well documented. It adds a sad authenticity to the proceedings that cannot be faked.
Both sons are represented with different aspects of victim-hood. Tommy has a rage that faces the world and, secretly inward. He makes choices that allows him to pursue a higher goal. Without that goal, he is empty of anything but rage. Brendan takes his wife and kids and shelters them from exposure, and does not trust when his father says that he is repentant.
The acting in Warrior is peerless for a film of its kind. Edgerton has made a career thus far in smaller roles, and hopefully this will be his discovery. His style of earnestness and humility gives the impression that he has lived the life he is portraying. He seems very humble, and at the same time, intriguing. The chemistry between he and Morrison is the glue to the film. It is easy where it is supposed to be and not so easy when it is not supposed to be.
Hardy’s star is about to go supernova. As the bad guy in The Dark Knight Rises, he is making waves. His performance in the masterpiece, Inception, merited an Oscar nomination, even if it did not get one. His accent in the film, along with that of Edgerton, is better than most people who grew up in the Pittsburgh area.
The pair of them are incredible shape for this film. The fact that they are so well-built and can act is indeed a rare thing. I don’t think I have seen acting this good from people with this kind of physicality.
For his part, O’Connor does a remarkable job weaving the stories together. The intensity of the last half hour is augmented by the fact that there is no clear sign of how the story will round out. Thankfully, it avoids the pitfalls that happen in most sports stories. This is far and away his best directorial effort, and I hope that he gets more opportunities in the near future. Given the grosses, it may take another effort or two and a stroke of luck to break through.
The white whale, in this tale, is Paddy’s attempt to have his sons’ return the love that he feels for them. The amount of return he gets on his investment is hardly apparent on the surface. Like a large looming presence, under the waves, something is there. It just takes the fight of all of their lives, and even then, just like for the director, there is no guarantee.
(***** out of *****)