Directed by Gavin O’Connor
Warrior is an MMA film about a family torn apart by alcoholism and abuse by their father, and the consequences on the family. It is also about brother against brother, with father against both sons as he seeks redemption. The film doesn’t father the traditional narrative, there is no real villain, both brothers have their motivations to fight and both makes sense in their own way.
Tommy is introduced first, sitting on the front porch of his father out of the blue after disappearing when he was a child with his mother. His reunion is confrontational, the point is really driven into our skulls that growing up in this house was awful awful awful. But Paddy is reformed, found Jesus, found AA, and found Moby Dick on tape. Tommy seems aimless and bitter, his reason for reunion not mentioned until much later. He quickly joins a local fight gym and beats the tar out of their star fighter, unwittingly becoming a YouTube sensation, but nowhere near as cool as Keyboard Cat!
Brendan’s character is immediately more sympathetic, the former fighter turned physics teacher dealing with an underwater mortgage (used for medical bills for his sick daughter), secret fighting matches to earn extra money, and trouble at work as the school superintendent is not happy. It helps that Joel Edgerton is likeable, and that the economy is so fucked now we all know people or are ourselves in his position. But I’m not allowed to do secret fights anymore after I killed those guys in the ring. The referees.
Tommy’s problems and motivations take a while to get to the point (there is a whole sequence with the military in Iraq that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film until much later), the pacing is way off on building him up. Luckily, they get their act together by the time the fights actually begin.
The centerpiece of the plot is a big tournament with a $5 million purse, and both of the brothers eventually get entered in the tournament. Tommy gains fame through a viral video of a beatdown of a top ranked fighter, while Brendan becomes a last-minute replacement for an injured fighter.
There is an interesting use of Moby Dick throughout the film as a book on tape that Paddy listens to. Moby Dick’s story of obsession leading to self-destruction and the destruction of those around you. This culminates in one of the best scenes in the film, with Paddy and Tommy. One could say that Moby Dick paralleled the story in the same way the pirate comics in Watchmen paralleled the story. Sort of. Maybe.
Jennifer Morrison is largely wasted as Brendan’s wife Tess, she’s mentioned repeatedly as a firebrand who gives people a good talking to, but aside from one or two brief quarrels with Brendan in the beginning of the film, she’s largely reduced to worried wife character status by the last half of the picture. This role could have been played by anyone.
Conversely, Kevin Dunn is great in his role as the principal of Brendan’s school, showing the kind of humor and charm that he could have been doing in the Transformers films had he had a better writer and director.
By far the worst part of the film is a confrontation on the beach between the two brothers. It is badly scripted, and many of Tommy’s lines come off as funny instead of dramatic. This could have been improved by a shorter confrontation and a flashback/story explaining some of the ill will instead of having the two characters bring up snippets of it in an argument.
It is not a Rocky clone, unless Rocky had a brother named Pocky who also boxed (and lived in Japan and was candy on a stick,) and they had an abusive dad named Bocky. As dumb as that sounds, imagine the complete opposite, and that’s how good Warrior is.
This is the second film we’ve seen recently for free in advanced screenings (Smurfs was the first) and the second free film we’re giving a positive review for. From the looks of it, I’m going to have to get free tickets to a truly awful film so I can tear it apart and make TarsTarkas.NET sound like we aren’t selling out for free tickets. But we truly aren’t! Warrior is actually good.
WARNING: No warriors come out to play. One warrior (Brendan) gets his face painted by his daughters, and that is as close to playing as you will get.
Rated 8/10 (America, mohawk, Mr. Witwicky!, not Rocky, beach time fun, walking, Moby is a Dick!, the big prize)
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