Review: Warrior

Posted September 5th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Despite MMA’s rising prominence it has generally been treated as an “underground” sport in films. That changes with Warrior, a movie that takes the familiar inspirational sports story with family conflict and intertwines that with an MMA tournament that carries large significance for the main characters. The fight action is authentic – though obviously some moments and results were played up for dramatic purposes – and in doing so it presents the sport in a legitimate fashion and one that translates well to the big screen.¬†

The story focuses on two brothers – one a Marine recently returned to the US (Tom Hardy) and the other a High School physics teacher (Joel Edgerton) – who for their own reasons return to MMA training and eventually find themselves entered in a high profile winner take all tournament pitting 16 of the best middleweights in the world. A family split years ago has left them at odds with each other as well as their father (Nick Nolte).

It’s somewhat unfortunate that the culmination with the two brothers facing each other in the finals was used to market the film, as that takes away some of the suspense, but most would have assumed it would reach that point anyway. Still it’s the emotional journey that will click with audiences rather than discovery of the end result and in that regard it is successful.

There will be a few elements that need some suspension of disbelief. The viability of a 16 man tournament over two nights in a world dominated by UFC, the contrivances in how these two relative unknowns make the tournament to begin with, and one of them remaining a crowd favorite despite a late revelation are just a couple of them. The fight announcers are also annoying in how they constantly disparage the two. We get it. They’re underdogs.

Despite all those things Warrior is quite powerful in its depiction of the family’s struggle to reconcile and the circumstances of each individual character. The performances are excellent – don’t be surprised to see a few names like Nolte getting nominated this award season. The decision made by the brothers has sent them down completely different paths and that is well portrayed. Kurt Angle even makes an appearance as an imposing Russian presence (seemed to be a take on Fedor Emelianenko) and he pulls off the role quite well despite not having a single word of dialogue.

Though it leaves some story threads unresolved¬†Warrior is a satisfying film that is deserving of the accolades it has begun to receive. While I didn’t find it to be “Best Picture” worthy I would put it on the same level as last year’s The Fighter. The strong performances outweigh the story and the MMA action is refreshing given that boxing-themed films have been the staple of the inspirational sports stories for so long.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Warrior is rated PG-13 and opens on Friday, September 9th.