One could probably assume that the psychology of broken homes and the long lasting thumbprint they tend to leave has been a theme in the humanities ever since, ugh, the Caveman could paint her stories and struggles regarding the daddy issues she gathered when her father Dink was smashed in a T-Rex stampede on the walls of her cave. Hell, even Leo Tolstoy opens his brilliant novel, Anna Karenina with the words “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Combine that traditional theme in the arts with the time tested format of the sports film and you’ve got Hollywood gold.
Warrior follows a storyline similar to that of Rocky, The Wrestler and The Fighter. Playing on the emotions of the audience, Director Gavin O’ Conner surrounds his spin kicks and upper cuts with an abundance of storyline solidly crafted to tug at the heartstrings.
At the beginning of the film, Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), the youngest of two brothers returns to his former alcoholic father’s Pittsburgh porch steps. The two exchange conversation, used specifically for character set up (home drama, marriage drama, deaths and drinking issues). While home, Tommy returns to the neighborhood gym he used during his glory days. As it would turn out, his glory days are not that far removed, as Tommy would not only prove his worth, but impress his peers by hanging with and defeating a quality athlete during a sparring match.
Tommy, remembering one of the best qualities of his father Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), reaches out to him to be his trainer. Paddy revives the role he held previously in his son’s childhood life, eventually, coming to terms with the fact that he is currently just a trainer, not a father.
Meanwhile, across the state in Philadelphia, Brendan Conlon, is still struggling to keep his life together. A father of two, Brendan is shown moonlighting as a fighter to make ends meet between paychecks as a physics teacher. However, his time in the ring lands him suspended without pay and with few options to stay afloat. His part time gig of semi-pro fighting in the parking lot of bars turns into a full time life of training with his former manager Frank Capana.
Through happenstance, both brothers find themselves in Sparta, the biggest MMA tournament ever created. However, the path from their starting point to the final match is anything from smooth, sending the boys through family feuds, unfinished business and fires no one has put out.
The brilliance of Warrior lies in the fact that the story overshadows the fighting. As you shift from storyline to storyline, you become connected with the three characters that capsulize the feelings on screen. Tommy’s abandonment issues are flawlessly flaunted on screen, captured with details as simple as his inability to make eye contact. However, in a scene with his father in his Atlantic City hotel room, the film manages to capture Tommy’s softer side, revealing his rough outer surface to be nothing more than a coping skill.
The fact is that Warrior could easily squeeze out a couple of Oscar nods if noticed by the right people. The characters in this film contain depth in a believable and complex way. For example, both Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy were both extremely convincing in the selected roles, possibly dialing in the best acting of their careers. I honestly would not be shocked by nominations for either. Additionally, the film itself possesses a set of layers quite often mismanaged in today’s diluted industry. While I could see this Lionsgate film getting overlooked or swept under the rug by bigger and more hyped films, as of today, nothing in 2011 has been better.
That’s saying a lot for a film about fighting.
I give Warrior 5 “whiskey bottles” out of 5
by Joshua Hammond