PLOT: Two estranged brothers (Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy) find themselves pitted against each other in a no-holds-barred Mixed Martial Arts Tournament, with a five million dollar purse. Complicating matters, one of the brothers is being trained by their remorseful, recovering alcoholic father (Nick Nolte), who's determined to win back the love of the sons.
REVIEW: Throughout the last month of so, WARRIOR, the latest from director Gavin O'Connor, has been screening for critics and to call the initial response enthusiastic, would be a major understatement. Since then, friends of mine in the online world have sworn that WARRIOR, which initially seemed like just another fight-flick, was not only incredible, but a better film than David O. Russell's THE FIGHTER and a potential Oscar nominee in its own right.
Having finally seen it for myself, I'm inclined to agree. WARRIOR is a terrific film. It's rare that a movie will make me want to get on my feet and cheer, but throughout WARRIOR I was so caught up in each character, that whenever Edgerton or Hardy stepped in the ring I was on the edge of my seat. Watching this made me think of what it must have been like for audiences in 1976 to watch ROCKY for the first time.
Everyone loves an underdog and in WARRIOR we get two of them. Edgerton plays the gentle family man, who is perfectly content working as a high school physics teacher, while raising two adorable girls with his gorgeous wife ("House" star Jennifer Morrison). He's only pushed back into the ring when the bank threatens to foreclose on his house, but his situation is never made out to be too dire. He has a good job, a supportive wife who's more than willing to downgrade her lifestyle, but it's his own stubbornness that makes him get back in the ring.
This is the second year in a row where Edgerton pops up in one of my favorite films of the year (last year was ANIMAL KINGDOM) and it's not a stretch to think he'll become a top-tier leading man before long. He brings a lot of heart and soul to his role and it's nice to see a fighter, for once, being portrayed as more than a mug. He doesn't need to fight, as he's a smart guy that easily fits into his day job teaching physics. This is solely a mission to provide his family with what he thinks they need, which is commendable.
Tom Hardy plays the polar opposite. He's an animal and fights for two reasons. One, he obviously lets go of a lot of the rage he's built up against his father in the ring (and there's a second, more noble reason revealed later). Suffice to say, it's enough that you won't know which brother to root for in the end. Physically, Hardy dwarfs Edgerton, with him looking like he could play the INCREDIBLE HULK without any makeup. He's twice the size he was in BRONSON, with freakishly large deltoids that make him look like the product of a mad scientific experiment.
Like Edgerton's character, he's not just a mug, as he has a heroic side, but also has demons that threaten to eat him up. Hardy plays him like Marlon Brando would have circa 1951 and it's a ferocious performance.
Nick Nolte, for his part, has the toughest role, with him coming off as a sweet, brokenhearted old man, although it's quickly revealed that he did unspeakable, unforgivable things to the brothers and their mom years ago. The film wisely doesn't try to force a reconciliation down our throat and O'Connor values the relationship between the brothers more than with the father. That said, Nolte is brilliant and could win Best Supporting Actor.
WARRIOR really works on every level. It's rare that you get a film that's not only a gritty drama, but also a crowd-pleasing feel-good movie and a stone-cold action flick all at once. It's a special film, and one that I really hope cleans up at the box office, as we need more movies with the kind of heart this has. This could also rank as one of the all-time "guy cry" movies. Move over BRIAN'S SONG...