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I have not got a bad word to say about Tom Hardy, one of our most promising and talented young actors. He changes not just his persona but also his physical form to suit his roles. Hardy was amazing as the fruit loop convict in ‘Bronson’ and practically stole the show, acting wise at least, in ‘Inception.’ After seeing him in ‘Warrior,’ I most defiantly have nothing but good things to say about Hardy, just in case we ever cross paths, because the man is lethal. You have probably seen the posters all over town in which the actor stands topless, along with his co-star Joel Edgerton, a mass of pure muscle and tattoo ink. Who would want to mess with that?
‘Warrior’ is an attempt to do for the sport of mixed martial arts what Rocky and countless other pugilist epics have done for boxing. The film’s story follows a well-worn path in which a poor underdog, two in this case, steps into the ring with nothing to lose but everything to gain. Hardy plays Tommy Conlon, a marine returning home to Pittsburgh and a fraught reunion with his father, Paddy. The dad, played very well by the grizzled Nick Nolte, had once been in the habit of drinking heavily and abusing his poor wife and Tommy’s mother.
Conlon Senior claims to have changed his ways, swapping the bottle for God and the works of Herman Melville. Not that the film wishes to promote intellectualism too much so Paddy does not actually read ‘Moby Dick’ but instead listens to the audio version. Tommy was a fighter before he joined up and now he wants to get back into the game for reasons not revealed until later. Paddy, an ex-boxer himself, agrees to train his son even though the boy does not hide his contempt for his father’s past misdemeanours.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia Tommy’s elder brother Brendan (Edgerton) is one of those movie teachers who is adored by his pupils. Brendan had also once pursued the family business, with less success, but he starts to take part in low-grade fights to make a little extra cash. His wife (Jennifer Morrison) is none too happy about this and neither are his employers. When he turns up at school black and blue Brendan is put on suspension. With his debts mounting and the threat of losing his house hanging over him, Brendan needs to make money fast. Luckily for him, the scriptwriters have invented a major mixed martial arts tournament taking place in Atlantic City with a six million dollar purse.
After much soul searching, Brendan goes into training for the big fight that might just save his bacon. Tommy is entering too, so cue scenes of familial regret and recriminations until we reach the inevitable showdown in Atlantic City. The two brothers have fallen out over how each coped with their father’s bad behaviour. In ‘Warrior’ such matters are not settled in counselling sessions but in a ring, in front of thousands of yelling fans and with a barrage of feet and fists.
‘Warrior’ is a film which delivers exactly as the title promises. It is about fighting both in and out of the arena. There is a large amount of emotional anguish to get through before we reach the really serious combat scenes in the final third of the film. Some commentators have hailed ‘Warrior’ as a masterpiece of the genre but it is actually pretty corny in parts. Where ‘Warrior’ really flies is in the tournament scenes which are bone shatteringly realistic. The actors have clearly put themselves through the mill to make the fights look as effective as possible. I am no expert, but it seems that mixed martial arts involves kicking punching, clawing, slamming and pretty much anything short of using a shotgun to put your opponent on the canvas.
‘Warrior’ is a film which believes that might is right whether it be in the ring or the in the deserts of Afghanistan where Tommy had been stationed. This is a world where there are two ways men deal with their personal problems, either by drowning them in a bottle or by smashing someone in the face. As Tommy and Brendan win their way through the contest it seems like the whole of the US is cheering them on with even Tommy’s regiment showing up to sing some supportive patriotic ditties. If this does not sound like your kind of film then best move on, there is nothing to see here.
However, if this your sort of thing then you will probably enjoy its cheesiness. You will be able to work out several of the plot twists in advance. The headmaster who refuses to let his pupils watch their teacher fight…perhaps he might come around to their point of view? Two estranged brothers enter a last man standing fight contest, wonder who will be squaring up to each other in the final round? There is even a mean mother of a Russian fighter called Ivan Drago…sorry, Koba (played by wrestler Kurt Angle) thrown into the fray. Still, clichés are pretty much what you would expect here and perhaps even demand. Criticising ‘Warrior’ for having a good old training montage sequence (which is does) is like chiding a western for ending up in a shoot-out on a dusty street.
This is Edgerton’s film really and should make him a star. He gets a lot more screen time than Tom Hardy but then, for plot purposes, much of Tommy’s back story is kept hidden. Overall the acting is above par for this type of film and gives the whole endeavour an extra bit of dramatic wallop. Tom Hardy is very good by the way. Did I mention how much I like Tom Hardy?
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Cast: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison, Nick Nolte, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn,
Runtime: 140 mins
Release: 23 September 2011