Warrior is easily the most intense sports movie I've ever seen. And I've seen my fair share. In a way, though, Warrior cheats. Cinderella Man, Rocky, The Fighter... Previous to this, I would've held these boxing movies up as the paragons of their kind (sorry, but team sport movies don't tend to have quite the same impact with me). But Warrior isn't boxing; it's MMA. Mixed martial arts. You know that sport you see every so often when you're flipping through the channels? Guys fighting with punches and kicks, without padding, in a cage? This is that sport.
This sport creates a scenario where the characters you love are genuinely threatened with death. You are not only rooting for them to take home the prize, you're praying that they don't get killed. People die in this sport, probably more than almost any other. Matches are regularly ended with people getting bludgeoned so hard in the face that they immediately drop to the ground, unconscious, with a possible concussion. I don't know much about the sport. I don't even know how this movie was filmed. But it legitimately looked like these actors were beating the fuck out of each other, which creates a very gripping story.
Can People Reform?
By itself, though, the MMA aspect would not be enough to carry it. If we didn't care about the characters going into it, it would merely be a curiosity of which big guy would beat the other. But, boy, do they make us care. This is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking family stories I've ever seen. The movie has two protagonists, two estranged brothers, separated over the years by the past drunken monstrousness of their father and the resulting death of their mother. One, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), separated himself from the dysfunctional family in order to marry the love of his life, raise children, and become a high school physics teacher. The other, Tommy (Tom Hardy), ran away from dad with their mother and, after she fell ill, was forced to watch her die. You very quickly come to care for each of these men.
Both of the brothers, beyond a doubt, are united in their condemnation of their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte). This creates some of the most tragic scenes I've ever seen. Paddy is genuinely reformed, over a thousand days without a drink, and spends the entire movie trying to reconcile with his sons. One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when Paddy visits Brendan's house at night and asks him outside on the lawn, nicely as he can, if they can reconnect, if he can meet his grandchildren who he has never seen, and if he can unite the family like he should have before. Brendan tells him to go away, saying that Paddy lost that right a long time ago. Paddy is forced to watch, helpless, as Brendan goes inside. Brendan's children and wife are at the door and his young daughter asks, “Daddy, who is that?” Brendan replies, “That's just a nice old man. Let's go.” And then he shuts the door, ignoring his father standing there helplessly, wishing he were a part of that something he can never have.
On Tommy's side, we see something closer to hatred. And it's unclear if Tommy loathes his father even more than Brendan does; everything Tommy does is so infused with rage that it's hard to tell. Tommy goes out of his way to express disdain of his father, making a mockery of Paddy's apparent reformation. At one point, Paddy attempts to console Tommy about Tommy's army experience and Tommy just looks at him. “Can you spare me the compassionate father routine, pop? You're trying this now? Where were you when it mattered? I needed this guy when I was a kid. I don't need you now. It's too late now. Everything already happened.” Tommy then tells his father to go away, to get lost, and that he isn't worth shit. It's harsh, but you can't help but empathize with him.
But this genuinely made me wonder: does the average viewer believe that the sons should forgive their father? I worried as I watched, concerned that personal experience blinded me. I thought that Tommy's reactions were too excessive, but that not letting Paddy anywhere near Brendan's family was perfectly justifiable, as well as disowning him completely. Yet I wondered if other viewers would think differently. After all, we never really see this awful side of Paddy that the brothers describe; he appears to be a new man, seeking atonement. And so I wondered if my own experiences made it easier to condemn Paddy than perhaps was right.
Tommy and Brendan
Brothers at War
Another aspect of this movie that affected me personally was the relationship of the brothers. This is so complicated that it may be hard to explain, but I will try. Brendan is the eldest child, the one who put distance between himself and his family in order to both make himself anew and to create a new life with his future wife and children. Tommy is the youngest child, the one who stayed with mom, helping to take her away from their father, and unable to save her from the sickness which claimed her life. From Tommy's perspective, Brendan chose to cut and run, leaving his family to suffer without his help. But Tommy never told Brendan that their mom was dying, deciding on his own that Brendan wouldn't care anyways. Consequently, Brendan resents Tommy for not allowing him a chance to help save their mother or, if nothing else, to see her before the end. On Tommy's side, he hates Brendan for leaving him and his mom on their own.
Both of them are right, and you empathize equally with both sides. And you are forced to watch them on a collision course with each other, unable to forgive, ready to fight each other in a sport that could end with one of them killing the other. It is a horrific twisting of something their father brought upon them in their youth, something their father tries to prevent. It's a grudge that they should lay down in order to embrace the other. But they can't. It results in one of the most intense fight scenes I've ever seen in a movie.
As for the actual sports and fighting aspect of the movie, all I can say is that Tom Hardy is the absolute last person I ever want to run into in a dark alleyway. I can see why they chose him to play the character of Bane in the newest Batman; in this movie, he's ferocity incarnate and scary as all hell. When he steps into the ring, the quiet and subdued character disappears and is seemingly replaced with all the unbottled rage and hatred that he has brought through his life. I can't say enough how terrifying it is when he cuts loose. It's like seeing a flaming steamroller of demon-possessed death.
By contrast, Brendan's fighting style is more like Rocky's: take a beating, bide your time, and then go apeshit on your opponent when he's overconfident. You get to see both of these fighting styles numerous times as they face quite a few opponents before they face each other. And, despite the nastiness of MMA fights, they thankfully chose not to show much, if any, blood in this movie. I think the movie Cinderella Man was bloodier, and that's like a Disney movie compared to the fights in Warrior.
All in all, this movie is one of the best I've seen this year. Just be aware that this movie has exceedingly high stakes violent fights and very intense emotional drama throughout.