Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Review: Warrior

A predictable plot given a shot in the arm by a superb cast

Director: Gavin O'Connor
Screenwriters: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Dambakis & Cliff Dorfman
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo and Nick Nolte
Plot: The Conlon family has been torn apart by father Paddy’s alcoholism. Elder son Brendan has built a tentative life for himself and his young family, whilst younger son Tommy has just returned as a disturbed Iraq-war veteran. However, with Tommy facing a dead-end life, and Brendan facing huge financial problems, both chase a $5mn prize in a winner-takes-all mixed martial arts tournament and the family tensions come to the fore.
Running Time: 139m 43s

Given the basic plot of this film, I was surprised to see that it had been rated as a 12A (and a PG-13 in the States). How can one make a compelling film about cage-fighting which doesn’t go all out on making the violence convincing enough that you feel like the characters are in danger? The answer is that this is a film which isn’t really about the violence.

Therein lies a problem, because it devotes so much time to the fighting. Though there are occasions when you feel like the fighting is really dangerous and really matters, on the whole it is drawn out with the stakes being held consistently low. This is particularly troublesome as the plot enters into a formulaic knockout contest. We know the two central characters are headed for the final, but we have to trudge through three rounds (and the best part of an hour) before they get there.

All of which detracts from the real heart of the film: a family torn apart in a nation which is equally divided. There’s plenty of well-worn ground here (reformed alcoholic father, estranged brothers, troubled war veteran, young family-man struggling to make ends meet), but it is delivered by such excellent performances that the moments when the family politics are centre stage are the most electric of the film. Furthermore, behind those moments are stories which will resonate with the US of today, most notably, the good school teacher who can’t support his family and is punished for attempting to make the most of his talents.

The excellent cast drive the film. Tom Hardy has taken most of the plaudits on this side of the pond, but his co-star, Joel Edgerton, deserves more credit than he has received, for it is he who has real presence in this film, bringing charm, empathy and magnetism. None of this should be seen as being to the detriment of Hardy, who has a quiet and mercurial nature in this film which is distressing and unnerving.

However, the gel which makes these two work is Nick Nolte. Whenever he’s on screen, everything zings more, particularly when he is being confronted by either of his sons. His haggard face does very little, but his performance makes the story ring far truer than it really has a right to.

The actual action is not without its merits, particularly when it comes to the climactic fight which is very well executed, but there is too much of it and a film this clichéd and predictable is not served well by lasting so long. Nevertheless, there is much of interest here and a great deal of quality which far exceeds much else that is on offer at present. 

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