Vijay Shah (editor/reviewer)
Suraj Shah (contributor)
Today the Half-Eaten Mind brings you a review of the film Warrior, written by Suraj Shah.
Warrior, released in 2011, is a sports drama movie set in the suburbs of the American city of Pittsburgh. It stars actors Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy (of Inception fame) and Nick Nolte, and was directed by Gavin O’Connor. It tells the story of two estranged brothers Tommy and Brendan, both of whom have a passion for MMA fighting (mixed martial arts). Tom returns to his hometown after a tour of duty in Iraq, where he meets his long-lost father, a womanising alcoholic who found God and made a turn for the straight path. Brendan has long turned his back on the brutal world of cage-fighting, opting to make a new life with his family, while diligently following his new career as a high school physics teacher. Both brothers soon return to the MMA circuit, where a tournament named Sparta and its prize of $5 million motivates them as much as their trainers do.
Tom still grapples with the aftermath of his time at war, witnessing the death of his brother-in-arms, Manny, in a friendly fire incident. Brendon, despite a happy home life, is struggling to pay his mortgage, and is only weeks away from losing his home. Two very different circumstances, two very different brothers. Seemingly unable to forgive their father for the pain his alcohol abuse caused them, and with memories of their mother’s pained death still fresh in the brothers’ minds, the brothers keep their father at a distance, despite his attempts to gain their forgiveness. Warrior shows successfully the delicacy and tension as a family is brought back together. The tension between the two brothers is palpable. Brendon is saddened that Tommy came to visit his father before seeing him, and Tommy dismisses his older sibling as a guy with just a girlfriend and a load of pictures of people Tommy does not care about. As the plot develops, the brothers are slowly reunited in the search for a common goal, but it is a goal that will see them face each other in a way that will truly test their new-found, if unstable, relationship.
Warrior is no progeny of the Rambo or Rocky vein . The fighting action does not kick in until the last forty or so minutes. The film is far more about family, estrangement and reconciliation. If you are expecting blood, cracking bones and chokeholds, you will not be getting plenty of that with this film. It’s more a film about personalities; Tom is humble yet constantly on the move, fuelled by bottles of liquor and pills. In Iraq he tore the door off a submerged tank and saved his fellow soldiers, yet walks away without asking for any credit, nor accepting a medal. He even shuns a photograph for the Sparta tournament programmes. Meanwhile Brendan is the textbook portrayal of an American family man, devoted to his wife and two daughters and popular with his high-school students. Both characters are realistic and deeply emotionally portrayed at times. I found this even more so with their father, Paddy. At first glance, he seems somewhat pathetic. With his rusty voice and wizened face, he seems overwhelmingly needing of pity. His first conversation with Tommy soon re-animates the demons of the past, of how Paddy turned his back on the boys’ terminally ill mother and his alcohol-fuelled rages. You soon find yourself hating him as much as his sons do, but such is the means that this movie takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, it feels as though you eventually forgive Paddy and feel for him as his sons finally do.
Despite being a drama about one of the most physical forms of athletics known, Warrior is not over-the-top with either drama or violence. It handles the developing relationships between Paddy, Tommy and Brendon sympathetically and with compassion. The sports theme seems but a convenient sideline as O’Connor’s project refocuses you towards the human stories, and their attendant ups-and-downs behind the flexing muscles and swift kicks. Of a family broken apart, seemingly to never come back together again. That emotional sympathy and respect extends to the portrayal of MMA in the film, as a sport about people training and trying, rather than the glitz and bright lights commonplace in the sport’s promotional events. You cheer the brothers as they battle opponents in the cage, but feel a tense guilt as they oppose each other.
However no sports film is complete without its eccentricities. Warrior doesn’t fail to deliver on those. From the monstrous Koda, the Russian behemoth whose beatdown of Brendan at Sparta seemed so complete that the commentator wondered aloud how long he would stay alive for; to Brendan’s old friend Frank, who uses Beethoven’s classics to calm his fighters’ temperaments, to the strange dance that Brendan’s wife Tess performs as he defeats Koda ( a personal highlight of mine) – Warrior drip-feeds weird little gems to help take the edge of the what is otherwise a serious movie about serious issues. Refreshingly for this sub-genre, Warrior by-and-large steers clear of the obsession with toned muscular bodies and fast women that similar films of this type inevitably display as standard. The pop-gloss gimmicks are left behind. Fans of the ‘Rocky’ boxing films franchise will readily appreciate how Warrior emphasises family, career development and bitter-sweet victories, while keeping a believable ‘good guy wins over adversity’ theme running.
Overall the film works well for its human portrayal. There is no formal introduction to the characters. You are very much just dropped into the plot, as you find yourself riding in a car with an old gentleman playing an audio Bible on his walkman. It is that sudden, uneventful immersion that really shows the strength of Warrior’s character and plot development. The speed of things can be a bit slow and ‘everyday’ at times – dragging occasionally, which at times detracts from the viewer’s involvement with the film. Despite an occasional snail’s pace in the plot’s journey, the building up of the characters keeps the attention span firmly switched on. It’s a likeable movie, whether or not you are a fan of mixed martial arts or sports at all. It certainly makes you think and impresses upon you emotionally, without pushing you over an emotive knife edge.
The bond of family, and especially of brotherhood, whether through blood or through war, is the most important message that Warrior will leave you with. The film, more or less in a nutshell, remembers the past, and especially its more bitter elements, but also has an underlying message of forgiveness, that blood is thicker than whiskey.
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