Warrior’s plot is almost as old as the concept of the sports movie itself. Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are estranged brothers, united only by a fractious relationship with their father (Nick Nolte). Individually they battle to compete in superstar mixed martial arts contest Sparta, where the prizes are big, but the competitors are bigger.
Director Gavin O’Connor, one suspects, aimed to make Warrior the Rocky of mixed martial arts together with the credibility of The Fighter. All the hallmarks are here – Hardy, Edgerton and Nick Nolte all play deeply flawed if essentially likeable characters; deeper themes (economic uncertainty, alcoholism, family conflict) are as essential to the narrative as the action; the cinematography expertly contrasts the blue collar grit of Pittsburgh’s street with the sharp focus glamour of Vegas (baby); a real uncertainty emerges as which brother the audience should be rooting for; even the lengthy running time itself surely signals serious cinema.
All of which, together with the pulsating fight scenes, makes for a movie high on intensity and full of intelligence… or at least it does until the narrative ditches most of the credibility that was previously established. That the ultra-determined, iron-built Tommy qualifies for the tournament is feasible. Brendan, however, is older, lighter and effectively retired from any serious level of competition. His ability to compete against the sport’s big guns at little notice is unconvincing. The rather predictable route that our warring brothers take through the Sparta event is so unlikely as to almost be an insult to our intelligence. And then there’s the contrivance constructed around the central three characters. On top of the family feud and the alcoholism, Brendan’s family are falling behind on their mortgage repayments and the twist (of sorts) regarding Tommy’s secret past both feel like manipulative attempts to yank the heartstrings. Warrior is bloated with misplaced sentimentality.
So Rocky meets The Fighter? The Warrior possesses almost enough accomplishment to merit such claims, but the ultimate reality is closer to The Champ meets The Simpsons’ The Homer They Fall episode filtered through a checklist of indie-cool embellishments.