Warrior review: The family that fights together…wins Oscars?
When Paddy Conlon comes home one night to his house in a working-class section of Pittsburgh and finds his grownup son, Tommy, waiting on his stoop, he can’t contain his shock. They haven’t seen each other in 14 years, not since Tommy, then a youngster, fled with his mother to escape his hard-drinking, abusive dad.
Sober now, and a church goer, Paddy is glad to see him, but wary. Why has Tommy returned?
Tommy doesn’t reveal much. A former Marine, his every move and utterance bespeaks explosive, barely contained rage.
This is the opening scene of Warrior, a stirringly well-made family drama opening Friday that is set in the brutal, competitive world of mixed martial arts competition.
Tommy is well-played by Tom Hardy, who made such a strong impression in Inception. He moves into his own place nearby and starts working out in a gym. Before long, has reduced the gym’s toughest mixed martial arts hero to rubble and is a contender for a national championship.
He seems driven, and his unfocused rage is only the half of it.
Paddy has a second son. Brendan (Joel Edgerton) lives in Philadelphia, on the other side of the state. Brendan and Tommy are nothing alike. Brendan is a family man, a high school physics teacher much loved by his students. But Brendan, too, wants nothing to do with his father.
Warrior, which mixes the slam-bang excitement of mixed martial arts action with family drama and sets its story in a recognizably real milieu of home foreclosures, economic desperation and wartime conflict, is a powerful movie.
I almost wrote “unexpectedly powerful,” but I came to it without having seen the trailer or read much about it. I urge you to do the same. (I’m attaching a brief clip from the movie but not the trailer, which might reveal more than you care to know about the story going in.)
Like The Wrestler, Warrior’s backdrop is a “sport” that many people don’t take seriously or know much about. Those sensitive to violence may find its fight scenes difficult to watch. But much is at stake here, and I’m not only talking about the huge, potentially life-changing purse.
More than anything this is a tale of redemption. All three men - the father and two very different sons - stand in need of it.
This isn’t a perfect movie. Directed by Gavin O’Connor from a script co-written by O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman, the machinations that move us toward Warrior’s climatic championship are a bit too perfunctory. And while Nolte will almost certainly receive a supporting Oscar nomination for his role repentant, ex-alcoholic dad, the movie too purposefully inflates his role to hedge its bets.
Nolte is great here (I especially like the way he says his lines when he discovers Tommy on his doorstep). Hardy also should get lots of attention. His inarticulate physicality and intensity will remind some of a young Brando.
Joel Edgerton, however, is the one to watch. It’s his movie. The success or failure of the film ultimately rests on his shoulders. He carries it ably. It likely won’t happen, but a best actor nomination should already be printed up with his name on it.