by L. Thompson | Thu., Sep. 8, 2011 5:45 PM
Review in a Hurry: With its mixture of alpha-male honor and father-son estrangement issues, Warrior feels like a movie strongly calculated to make grown men cry. Yet despite strong work by Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte, the only thing here worth shedding tears over is the brutally inadequate script. It's great that a Hollywood movie finally takes mixed martial arts seriously as a sport, but unfortunate that it had to be this one.
The Bigger Picture: After an absence of many years, homeless-looking tough guy Tommy (Hardy) shows up on the doorstep of his reformed alcoholic father Paddy (Nolte) asking him to train him to fight again, as he did years ago in amateur wrestling. The only condition is that Paddy not try to mend fences, the wounds of the past being too deep and all. Meanwhile, Tommy's brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), estranged from both sire and sibling, is a retired UFC fighter whose inadequately paying teaching job won't prevent a foreclosure on his house.
Both Tommy and Brendan enter the same MMA tournament for different reasons, and the movie's own poster pretty much gives away what happens next. But can everyone involved get over their personal issues? And is the result Oscar-worthy? Spoiler alert: No.
We barely have the space to count the ways in which Warrior fails, but let's grant it the one leap of faith it asks: that we believe the two best MMA fighters in their weight class are a high-school physics teacher and a Marine with addiction and rage issues. On a fundamental level, director Gavin O'Connor has bigger problems than that, primarily that he can't decide whether this is a personal drama or a sports movie (everyone involved clearly wishes this were The Fighter, which had the benefit of a true story to draw upon).
As a sports movie, it's weak in obvious ways. The outcome of every fight, save the last one, is never in doubt, and the fighting styles are repetitive and unconvincing (Tommy knocks guys out with one punch; Brendan does rope-a-dope followed by a leg takedown). It's cool to have Olympic-turned-pro-wrestler Kurt Angle show up for a movie set in his hometown of Pittsburgh...but as a Russian villain who wears the Soviet flag logo on his shirt? Was WWE's Vladimir Kozlov not available?
As a drama, too, it's over-contrived. Tommy and Paddy establish strict training rules, but then we barely see any of the training process. Paddy insists Tommy cut out his pill addiction, then takes his meds away—this problem is never mentioned again. Brendan, we're told, is in dire financial straits because his daughter had expensive heart troubles, but the daughter never even becomes a character; she's a device and prop. In a brief attempt at humor, O'Connor delivers the cliché of the tough boss (Transformers dad Kevin Dunn) who condemns Brendan's fighting only to end up cheering for him to win in the end: This gag is apparently so hilarious it's rubbed in a good four times or so.
All that's left is Nolte's restrained regret and Hardy's power pout, both solid portraits of damaged manhood. Shame the fixes on offer are tough to swallow.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Alcoholic dads, and those who've had them, will probably feels buttons being pushed. That they deserve a stronger hand on said buttons may not matter.
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