Ever since Rocky it’s been hard for Hollywood to make an original sports movie that involves competition fighting. Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-winning film showed that they can be taken seriously but since there’s so many it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.
Warrior, from writer/director Gavin O’Connor (Pride and Glory), doesn’t exactly break a whole lot of new ground, hitting a lot of the beats that we’ve come to expect from this type of movie. But what it lacks in originality it makes up for in sheer force of will, terrific performances and riveting, realistic fight sequences.
Two estranged brothers – one a family man struggling for money (Animal Kingdom’s Joel Edgerton), the other a former fighter and soldier (Tom Hardy) – train for and enter a MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) competition with a $5 million prize. Neither of them knows the other is entertaining the competition, which causes friction considering they haven’t seen each other in well over a decade.
Things are 50/50 when it comes to how much is dedicated to the fight/training scenes and the family drama in between. In the latter aspect Warrior, like I said, isn’t exactly reinventing the one-two punch. If you break down the family drama point-by-point it reads as generic. However, through believable and heartfelt performances from the two leads, as well as veteran Nick Nolte (playing the duo’s recovering alcoholic father trying to make amends), the drama rings true.
MMA/UFC fans that come to the film looking for their favourite sport played out on the big screen will not be disappointed. First off it’s refreshing to see this sport dramatised when so often it’s boxing or karate, for example. The film delivers (and then some!) on the fight scenes themselves, with the inevitable big competition taking up a good third of the film’s runtime. You usually only get one big moment of pride and joy at the big finish, the winner’s hand being held aloft in victory by the referee. But the competition has several different stages and each one is given the attention they deserve to successfully build the tension and keep you engrossed.
The whole thing builds to the predestined big finale – an emotional one as much as a physical one for the characters – and there is no points for guessing which two fighters make it to the final round. Again, on paper this is entirely unoriginal but what is original is that we don’t know who is going to be victorious in the end and, perhaps most importantly, we want so much for both fighters to win. It’s this aspect that helps make Warrior be more than “just another sports movie.”
Unsurprisingly the film is being sold as this year’s The Fighter. And while it shares a lot of characteristics of David O. Russell’s multi Oscar-winner it has a lot of other things to offer. Where The Fighter may deal with its family drama a bit better – helped largely by the brilliant performance by Christian Bale – this works on an altogether more subtle, less in-your-face way. Whether you come for the family drama, the fighting sequences or a shrewd mix of both, Warrior doesn’t disappoint. It may be clichéd but you’ll likely be too wrapped up in it to care.