The release of “Warrior” (2011) clearly suffered from bad timing. If this movie came out before the theatrical release of “The Fighter” (2010) or after a considerable gap, then “Warrior” could have done well at the box-office. As it stands, “Warrior” was hardly a breakeven for the studio. The reason why audiences stayed away from “Warrior” was because of its resemblance in every aspect to a superior boxing flick, “The Fighter.” The dysfunctional families and two brothers formed the heart of both the movies. What’s more, the initial marketing elements for “Warrior” such as posters, trailers, DVD release, and flash segments created a familiar impression about the characters and story. On the surface, one can’t help feel that “Warrior” is a twin brother of “The Fighter.” But are comparisons to “The Fighter” fair? Probably not, but by whatever mechanism “Warrior” is evaluated in the future, it doesn’t warrant a dismissive attitude, because it’s a solid movie in every way: character, story, acting, and fight sequences.
The biggest challenge for a sports movie like “Warrior” lies in presenting a sport with a meaningful storyline. “Warrior” drops all the clichés associated with a sports genre movie and invests heavily in the characters and their situations. From the first scene, director Gavin O’Connor presents a human side of the story, which is evident when Paddy (Nick Nolte) arrives at his son’s apartment, Tommy (Tom Hardy). Paddy tells Tommy that he has been sober for one thousand days now, and he doesn’t plan to revert back to his old ways. We learn he has become a devout Catholic, but Paddy fails to convince Tommy. Meanwhile, Tommy spends his time in a gym, where he beats a professional fighter called “Mad Dog.” The video of the fight is posted on YouTube and soon Tommy becomes a phenomenon. He decides to participate in a Mixed Martial Arts tournament called the Sparta and asks Paddy to train him on a condition that it stays business. Meanwhile, Tommy’s estranged brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a teacher at a local school, and he along with his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison), are working on multiple jobs to make ends meet. Financially struggling, Brendan and Tess are late on their mortgage payments. In order to keep the house, Brendan enters the Sparta tourney, setting himself on a collision course with Tommy.
Two-thirds of the storyline focuses on developing the characters of the two siblings and their father. There are segments that lay the groundwork for Tommy’s angry attitude and his disconnected character. We learn about a failed mission when Tommy was serving for the U.S. Marine Corp and why he decides to enter the competition. In addition, we gather why Tommy is not on speaking terms with Brendan, and why Tommy and Brendan can’t fully forgive Paddy for past deeds. The script weaves all the characters’ lives together beautifully, with each character trying to deal his past and at the same time unable to resolve differences. Tommy is in rebellion while Brendan is more responsible of the two siblings, always thinking like a family man. Paddy’s character is desperately trying to connect with his sons, hoping that they will forgive him someday. As a lonely man, Paddy is clearly broken and wants to see his family happy again. He feels alienated, which takes an immense toll on him, and he eventually becomes weak again, by breaking his sobriety. It’s a memorable scene in which two broken souls, Paddy and Tommy, find a way to connect again.
Things are complicated on all the fronts, and Tommy and Brendan haven’t spoken in sixteen years. We learn Brendan abandoned his family for Tess, when Brendan’s responsibility lies in taking care of a family member. Tommy finds it hard to forgive both Paddy and Brendan, and seemingly bitter about the past. From a storyline perspective, there is depth in the character development, and I felt every character got its fair share of screen time with remarkable sequences. However, the story fails to dig deeper on the main issue: Paddy’s past behavior. We can only guess he was abusive, and instead of being a responsible father and husband, Paddy was busy getting drunk with his buddies. The sons find a common ground, at least, in expressing their grievances and anger to Paddy, but, then, we never quite understand why this family is broken. As such, the underlying issue feels ambiguous, and becomes quite distracting as the plot progresses.
The fight sequences are staged in the film’s final act. The fights are fast and realistic, in which the players employ the combination of boxing and martial arts skills. They inject necessary momentum into the plot and succeed in depicting the brutal and competitive side of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) sports. Apart from a visceral visual impact, the fights are thrilling to watch. In the performances aspect, Nick Nolte’s performance is surely going to get an Oscar nomination in the coming months. He has already received a number of nominations and awards for his portrayal as an ex-alcoholic. Indeed, it’s a subtle and sensitive performance by Nolte.
Apart from minor issues with the story, “Warrior” is a solid, underrated gem that will always stand in the shadows of “Rocky” and “The Fighter.” Surely, this is one of the better movies of 2011.
“Warrior” arrives on Blu-ray with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, and encoded using an AVC codec. The 1080p is strong with deep detail and consistent sharpness. The grain is heavy in the boxing scenes and gym, but it is never distracting and gives a film-like appearance to the transfer. The blacks are solid in the night scenes, and colors appear warm. The close-ups have nice detail and the flesh tones are realistic. Overall, the transfer is strong and very filmic.
Interestingly, Lionsgate has included two tracks in the audio department: the 5.1 and 7.1 DTS-HD Master tracks. Mostly, “Warrior” is a dialogue-driven film, banking on dialogue and little action. The conversations can be too soft at times and I think the 5.1 DTS-HD track performs well, with dialogue clearly audible throughout the film’s duration. The soundtrack comes to life in the fighting sequences. In these segments, the punches have nice bass, and the rear channels are also activated, fully utilizing the surround envelope.
First, we get an audio commentary with filmmakers and actor Joel Edgerton. The track is generally slow, but has good information on the project, writing process, and script. Following this, “Full Contact” is an enhanced viewing mode option that packs informative material on the film by including stills, gallery and behind-the-scenes footage. In this feature the interviews with the cast and filmmakers, are shown as the main feature, whereas the film is played in a small window.
Next, a documentary, “Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life” is a series of interviews with the cast, director, and some behind-the-scenes footage. Director Gavin O’Connor discusses the characters and how they resembled his real life situation. He talks about the strenuous filming schedule and the challenge of shooting the film on time, under a tight budget. Up next, “Philosophy in Combat: Mixed Martial Arts Strategy ” features a few MMA experts as they provide insights in this sport.
“Simply Believe” is a tribute to Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr. Following this, “Brother vs. Brother” shows how the fights were shot and staged in the climax. Finally, the bonus features ends with a gag reel and a deleted scene from the film.
First and foremost, “Warrior” is a character-driven drama in which the characters are pulled into the world of MMA out of their personal needs. Unlike the stories of “Rocky” and “The Fighter” that showed gradual development of a “champion” boxer, “Warrior” never focuses on the “champion” aspect of the game. We have characters that are dealing with their turbulent pasts in their own ways, and sports becomes a secondary outlet to do something different. “Warrior” is a victim of a poor marketing campaign and bad timing, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad movie. The film features terrific performances from Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte, along with a deep script, and brilliant camerawork. It’s a movie that is worth seeing at least once.