I didn’t really intend on watching Warrior so soon after watching the entire Rocky saga. Netflix has this way of sometimes sending discs in not quite the order you expect. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to watch a movie that was likely so close to the Rocky flicks.
Tom (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are brothers. We discover early on that their dad (Nick Nolte) was a mean alcoholic and caused much hurt for both brothers. That hurt is nested in some deep rooted anger for the younger brother Tom, who shows up on his dad’s front porch one evening. We learn that Tom has been away for a while and dad has changed a lot. Gone are dad’s days of drinking and abusing those he loves. This revelation only inflames Tom’s anger towards his father. To the youngest sibling, it’s not right that his father gets his act together after the kids are out of the house. Making matters worse is that Tom had to care for and eventually watch his ill mother die as his dad went about his own life as he pleased. Tom won’t hear of any apologies let alone consider offering the forgiveness his dad desires. There is too much pain.
Meanwhile we learn that Brendan has a wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison), and two kids. He teaches physics at a public school. Both parents work but, due to medical bills piling up as a result of serious health problems one of the daughters had, they’re about to lose their home. Brendan is a proud man who wants to do the right thing. He refuses to consider bankruptcy and instead returns to his former trade as that of a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. He fights in a small event in town with amateurs and walks away with hundreds of dollars for a couple hours of physical labor. When Tess finds out about this she is not happy about the new part-time work. But Brendan is adamant that he needs to do it. They need the money. The next day at school Brendan finds out he needs the money even more because he was being suspended for the semester without pay as the school board considers his future employment.
Tom has a desire to train for MMA. It’s not clear why, but when you’re built like a tank and harbor so much anger it’s not hard to believe that such a guy might want to get in a gym and pulverise everything he can. Stress relief if nothing else. Tom pleads to spar with one of the fighters training with a coach. Turns out this fighter is one of the top ranked MMA middleweights in the country. Tom destroys him and the video of it goes viral.
A 24-hour, 16-man MMA tournament with a $5M purse called Sparta is in the works. Tom wants in and has his pass thanks to his new found fame via YouTube. He gets his dad to train him, but only to train. Turns out the old man was at least good at one thing in his drunken days and that was coaching his sons to wrestle. Tom makes it painfully clear that he does not want anything more from or with his dad – training only. A strange arrangement but one that a father desperate to reconnect with his kids cannot decline. Brendan also begins training but with his old trainer. His intent is not to get back into things professionally but to fight against amateurs he knows he can beat without much personal risk. He learns from his dad that Tom is back in town and that Tom is training for the tournament. Brendan wants nothing to do with his father and tells him as much. He’s not only hurt by the past but he’s hurt that his dad has come to tell him that he’s training his brother. Brendan feels that Tom always the favorite and this only strengthens that argument.
Due to an injury to another fighter, Brendan gets his shot at entering the big tournament. The path is drawn. Tom and Brendan will meet in the cage. And while there are some (fully expected) manipulative moments, the overall story is not one that I can remember seeing in a sports film. There are two guys we’re rooting for. They’re estranged brothers who are still deeply wounded by their father. It makes for a much different dynamic as the movie progresses. Whereas the typical sports movie (say, Rocky) has a clear path to a final bout with a clear underdog we gladly cheer for, Warrior’s is anything but clear, which makes for a more interesting movie.
The acting is solid, though it can feel almost too somber for its own good. At times it feels as though Nick Nolte gave lessons to Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton on how to growl lines rather than speak them.
The back story for Tom is creative but likely takes things a step too far. I won’t spoil anything, but by the end I felt as though there was unnecessary drama introduced that takes a little bit away from the core story.
There are no easy resolutions in Warrior. The anger, the hurt, the desperation for forgiveness and reconciliation are at times overwhelming. Instead of a feel good sports movie we get something different which is satisfying if not exactly uplifting. Overall it’s a nice change of pace from the prototypical sports film.