Sunday, 8 April 2012

Warrior (Gavin O'Connor, 2011)

Hollywood often gives us double doses of filmic recipes - some coincidences, some planned  - some  brilliant, and some God awful. Warrior, starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as estranged brothers  brought together by chance as they fight in a mixed martial arts tournament comes just six months after the release of The Fighter - the true story of 80s boxing brothers Micky and Dicky Ward as their family issues risk destroying everything they've worked for.

Whether Warrior was always planned to riff off of The Fighter's success is hard to say but even in this worst case scenario what's important is Warrior's elevation through the incredible talent is holds. Nick Nolte shines strongest  as the two men's reforming alcoholic father whose mistreatment of them as young boys still cuts deep.

The two brothers we know will eventually come to blows are introduced as polar opposites and a fragmented family unit is quickly defined. Tommy Conlon (Hardy) is back from tour duty in Iraq, he is a brooding and troubled presence scarred by war, it is Tommy who dominates most of the film one way or another. Brendan (Edgerton) is a high school psychics teacher with wife and kids in a suburban wonder house. The two brothers live in entirely different worlds but both share a fighting background,  they also have responsibilities and pressures that eventually will them into the ring once again as they compete for a prize that can save their loved ones lives. Tommy's story is more obscured and is revealed as the film moves on, it's a touching one which gives the brooding beast a heart and added dimension after seemingly fighting for selfish reasons. Brandon is struggling to pay the mortgage as his young daughter was taken severely ill and has rung up huge medical bills, Brandon takes to moonlighting as a MMA fighter once again to bring in extra money, his trusting wife believing he's bouncing clubs.

The brother's story's add sufficient emotional weight and have you rooting for both of them, the thought of either losing is tough going and for this Warrior succeeds. Both brothers have no idea the other is entering the same competition, they share the same distain for their father Paddy (Nolte) but Tommy still asks his father to train him as he knows him to be the best, Paddy knowing he's being used of course uses it as a chance to be let in to his son's life. 

In the structure of Warrior is where it falls down; the first two thirds of the film we're shown the brother's predicaments, their familial differences and their eventual training with Paddy at Tommy's side. Nolte gives such an incredible heart-wrenching performance as a reformed man trying desperately to convince of his change that it's a shame he's forgotten in the last stretch of the film. There is an incredible scene between Paddy and Tommy where the father has been pushed too far by his resentful son and has thus been pushed back momentarily into his former hell, the roles are then reversed as Tommy the son almost cradles his father and comforts him to sleep. After this incredible moment, the best moment of the film, we well and truly enter the realm of the sports genre.

Warrior is of course a sports picture and a good one at that; the moments during the fights evoke the exact reactions brutal fights like these need. The camera watches almost from an audience perspective and doesn't utilise any cinematic trickery or chauvinism to highlight any significant blows -  director Gavin O'Connor refuses us any glorified slow-motion instead remaining consistent with his naturalistic raw approach.

The competition thickens and of course it seems all the more likely the two brothers will meet in the final round (not a spoiler) . As the two brothers face each other we don't know what the outcome will be as both have so much to lose, we know which result is the most fathomable and it's hard to believe at this point that the rug will be pulled from beneath making it all rather predictable in the end. What the film needed after the winner is crowned was another 10-15 minutes to further us in the relationship of these two men and their father, we feel through the heightened melodrama of Tommy and Brendan's match that some equilibrium is restored but then it's cut short and the feeling is one of hollowness. Whereas The Fighter was a true to life drama first and a sporting picture second, Warrior suddenly feels like a sports concept with some added drama shoehorned in for the competitiveness to function. What's frustrating is that when it does focus on the three central men and their contempt for one another it does it so well. Sure the fights are excellently shot and the price is high for all involved but it's this short coming of cohesion between the competition and the emotion the film so brilliantly conveys in the beginning that stops Warrior from being great. 

This is the world of Hollywood and Warrior is the best example of its produce. If only all 'popcorn' movies were of this quality, the term 'popcorn movie' could then cease to reside as a condescending term to mainstream movies. Warrior has a heart as well as adrenaline, two very important ingredients for success here. It's a shame then that the film eventually slips its heart from its sleeve and into the back pocket at the last hurdle.