Overview: Two estranged brothers find themselves in the same MMA tournament, with a winner-take-all multi-million dollar prize. Lionsgate; 2012; 140 Minutes.
A Surprise: I’m going to start by admitting that I don’t like MMA. If I’m enjoying a beer somewhere and I see more than three patrons enter wearing Tapout gear, I’m leaving, because that tells me things are about to get both loud and boring for me. If I were a composite police sketch artist and a victim told me “I was robbed by two douches,” I’d just scribble a rough portrait of Joe Rogan and Dana White. I don’t consider any of the MMA organizations to be a sport—a competition, but not enough strict, scientific rigidity in the rules and guidelines to qualify as sport. With that disclosure provided, I’ll admit: Warrior is one of the best sports movies to be released in a long, long time.
By the Numbers: I’ve speculated upon some exclusive transcript from Warrior‘s initial movie pitch:
Most great sports movies are underdog stories, right? Dude, this has two underdogs! And you know how bros with tribal tats love WWE storylines? Yeah, we’re throwing one of those in bro! These bros are real bros! We’ve made one a soldier and one a teacher, dude! Who you even gonna cheer for?! And we got a Russian like in Rocky IV. And their dad is their fighting coach! Who do I have in mind to play the dad? I don’t know, just pull some drunk homeless bro off the street.
This movie really ‘roids up its training approach. And yet the project is expertly conceived, with few missteps, covering its loaded deck with surprisingly poignant music cues, a patient treatment of a tragically torn family, and performances that range from explosive to subdued. This film does not shy away from putting two powerhouses on the screen together.
Treating Its Wounds: Warrior earns a pass on its long first act by using it in illustration of the likability and histories of its two heroes. The camera work around the cage during the fights is shaky, sometimes unclear, but the buildups and celebrations before and after are so engaging, that we duck and lean where we need to in order to see. After Tommy (the brother played by Tom Hardy who turns PTSD into a fighting style) knocks out every opponent he faces in vicious, lightning-fast fashion, Brendan (the gosh darn swell submission fighting brother played by Joel Edgerton) impossibly absorbs the thunder punches to take the fight multiple rounds. But as viewers, we wouldn’t have it any other way. And never mind the impossible odds that two brothers, fighting amateurs, would make it to the same exclusive pro tournament and then meet in the championship match. That’s a question you’ll ask only after the adrenaline and emotion wear off.
Overall: Learning well from its predecessors, Warrior offers an undeniably enjoyable sports underdog movie with a loaded twist.