|In Short:||Predictable, manipulative and contrived.|
|Recommended:||Only if you were previously desperately awaiting an MMA version of Rocky.|
|TOMMY:||So you found God huh? That’s awesome. See, Mom kept calling out for him, but he wasn’t around. I guess Jesus was down at the mill forgiving all the drunks. Who knew?|
Despite what you may have heard or read, Warrior just may be one of the most melodramatic and manipulative films ever conceived. Yes, it belongs to the genre of predictable sports movies and thereby gets a pass from most people because of the genre’s varied history. But that is not nearly a good enough excuse for the drek that Gavin O’Connor has helped concoct with this film. I knew immediately after seeing the film just how awful it was, but it has taken me weeks to really put into words how upsetting it really is.
The Conlon family has been irreparably damaged after years of abuse at the hands of the former boxer and alcoholic patriarch Paddy (Nick Nolte). He is trying his hand at sobriety, but his estranged son Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is not ready to let Paddy get too close to his family. Other son Tommy (Tom Hardy) has just mysteriously returned from fighting in the Middle East, and recruits Paddy to help train him as an MMA fighter in order to compete in an upcoming tournament with the best fighters in the world. At the same time, Brendan, a school teacher, begins training to fight in the same tournament in order to keep a roof over his family’s heads.
Should the trailer not have told you already, it becomes increasingly obvious throughout Warrior’s often excruciating 140-minute running time where these two brothers are heading. The film makes no bones about it, and plays through almost every single underdog trope you can imagine, and even a few you may have forgotten. The notion of being subtle was apparently lost on O’Connor, and I wonder if the original script played out just as annoying and silly as the film does. The comparisons to Rocky are more than fair, because the movie practically rips off entire segments right out of that legendary Oscar-winner without shame. While it is interesting to see that it took this long for a mainstream film to capitalize on the MMA craze, it is a little too hard not to notice the smudges from the paint-by-numbers guide the filmmakers followed.
Cue laughter here.
Cue crying here.
Cue cheering here.
Cue raucous applause here.
I would not be surprised if a version exists where a subtitle comes on blatantly telling the audience how to react. It really does become that condescending in some instances.
But looking aside from the formulaic and absolutely asinine plotting structure, as well as the clear jumps in logic on the parts of almost every single cast member (specifically towards the end of the film), I think the film is most guilty of being too long, too self-indulgent and just plain boring. Warrior lacks the charisma and finesse needed to really make you forget the predictability of it all and actually care about the plight of these characters. We know what is going to happen to Rocky by the end of his film, but we enjoy the journey getting there. With Warrior, you could care less what happens to the characters. It beats you over the head with moments dripping with pathos and sorrow, but never answers the question of why we should care. It merely goes through the motions, playing out lengthy scenes that could have easily been cut for pacing or reworked to give us a reason for watching the struggles of this collapsed family. It fails to connect on almost every level, and merely feels like a stretched out, half-baked drama that drags its heels getting to the tournament the film is building towards. Even then, it still takes its time getting to the fights. While you could say the same thing about the Oscar-winning The Fighter, it is easy to forget that film was more invested in the family unit than it was in the fighting. Warrior cannot decide what it wants to focus on, and never finds time to rectify that problem. Instead it drags on about 30 minutes too long, and feels every minute of it. When you spend over five minutes on one of the worst training montages ever created, with bouncing/panning action boxes and erratic zooms (I do not do it nearly enough justice for how badly conceived and unintentionally hilarious it is), it becomes a bit too evident that material easily could have been cut out.
I adore Hardy as an actor and look forward to seeing him breakout, but he does not really put any effort into Tommy. He is brooding and conceited throughout, hinting at an inner pain that is waiting to be unleashed. But he never really gets the opportunity to showcase any of it. He spends most of the movie not saying a word, and merely looking at the camera or his cast mates with saddened and hollowed eyes. His sad eyes can only do so much, and his written words do absolutely nothing. It looks like he took the movie merely for the chance to bulk up and prep for The Dark Knight Rises. Edgerton, who I also look forward to seeing break out, does a little better. He actually puts in the effort needed to be convincing, and even with the atrocious dialogue, comes off as genuine. He takes even the worst of moments in stride, and does almost the entirety of the heavy lifting in the film. Should the film have focused entirely on him and cut out the inane brother subplot, I think it could have worked a whole lot better.
Which brings me to Nolte, who gives what is likely his best performance in over a decade. While that may be true (his only real standouts are a goofy turn in Tropic Thunder and a couple of voice roles), I find it hard to find anything to really praise about it. He appears to be playing a fragmented archetype along the lines of Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler. Both characters are washed up shadows of their former selves, and not surprisingly, the lives of the actors playing them oddly mirror the roles. But instead of giving the emotional breadth and genuine authenticity needed for this character, Nolte overacts the entire way through it. He hams it up for part of the film, and in others, completely destroys any semblance of attempting to give a great performance. He knows this is the role that will secure him a comeback, but he never gives it the time to flourish. He seems concerned more so with ensuring everyone knows what kind of thespian he can be when he wants to be, and becomes comically bad in some scenes. When there are people laughing at your character’s most deadly serious scene, not because it is funny but because the delivery is stilted and amateur, it says a lot about your work. Nolte does have some great scenes in the film, but he makes just too many careless mistakes for it to truly be as triumphant as it should be.
But for all of its problems and everything it does so horrifically wrong, the fight scenes at the end of the film are simply magnificent. They are raw and realistic. You can feel every punch, gasp at every bone crunching submission, and practically smell the sweat coming off the mat. You can sense immediately that great pains were taken to ensure these scenes looked as authentic as possible. You become immersed in them, and feel like you are right there in the scene. Not surprisingly, I completely forgot how long I had been sitting watching Warrior because these scenes were just so breathlessly entertaining.
But after wading through almost two hours of melodramatic pandering, I think that’s the very least we deserve.
-- David Baldwin