Payout Film Review: Warrior
August 31, 2011
I had the opportunity to see a sneak preview of the new mixed martial arts movie, “Warrior,” opening on September 9th. Warrior has everything MMA fans are used to: a high school teacher turned MMA star, a war veteran-turned-fighter, a stoic Russian MMA machine, a mohawked brawler, a seedy manager, a famed trainer and an underdog story.
The story centers around the Conlon family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eldest brother Brendan is a physics teacher with a wife and two daughters trying to make ends meet. When the bank tells him that it will foreclose on his home in 90 days he turns to fighting in a quasi-toughman contest to earn quick dollars. He is suspended from his job after its learned what he is doing and he must turn to MMA fights full time. Despite his wife’s apprehension, the former UFC fighter convinces her that he is cherry-picking against less skilled fighters and it will be easy money. He regroups with his old MMA coach and is thrown in with a younger, stronger training camp. Brendan eventually adopts and when an opportunity presents itself, he finds himself in a two day MMA tournament in Atlantic City with the winner getting $5 million.
Younger brother Tommy is an Iraq war veteran holding onto a secret from his tour of duty. Looking to rekindle his past as a champion amateur wrestler, Tommy works out a boxing gym where he discovers a group training for the same big tournament in Atlantic City. After Tommy delivers a severe beatdown to the gym’s toughest fighter, he is noticed by an MMA manager who pulls strings to gets him into the tournament. In order to train, Tommy seeks help from his recovering alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) despite his disdain for his father who tore their family apart when he was a kid.
With both brothers making the tournament, there is the prospect that they could meet. Unlike the Klitschko brothers, the Conlon brothers are willing to fight as Tommy feels that Brendan betrayed him as when their father and mother split up, Brendan stayed in Pittsburgh with his father and girlfriend (and eventual wife) instead of moving with him and his mother west.
Similar to “The Fighter” and “The Wrestler,” the combat sport serves as the backdrop for the story’s plot. Warrior is more “The Fighter” than “The Wrestler” as the sport serves as the vehicle for the story.
Fighters Erik Apple, Anthony Johnson and Nate Marquardt make cameos as opponents in the tournament. Kurt Angle plays the movie’s version of Fedor which is ironic since he is a U.S. Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and his pro wrestling character plays up American patriotism.
The movie does a great job in explaining the sport of MMA without hitting the audience in the face with it. Although Warrior embellishes the rules of MMA, the fight scenes are fairly true. Not only do the action sequences feature stand-up game but also show jiu jitsu. Warrior will play well with non-MMA fans as it does not try to shove the sport down the audience’s throat. The movie is subtle in letting the non-MMA fan know that the sport is more than physicality and its participants and fans are intelligent. Brendan, the high school teacher, teaches physics. Also, the school principal is a closet fan who secretly backs Brendan’s moonlighting although its frowned upon by the school.
Tommy (played by Tom Hardy) looks more like pro wrestler Bill Goldberg (trap muscles and all) as he enters the cage, disposes of an opponent and then leaves without any celebration or the referee raising his hand in victory. Nick Nolte is excellent as the fallible alcoholic father trying to make amends after a lifetime of screwups. Brendan (played by Joel Edgerton) is the most complex character of the three as his primary goal is to provide for his family by any means. Yet, he does not know how to deal with Tommy or his father.
In prelude to the premier, MMA Weekly reported that Insight Editions and Lionsgate Films released a coffee table book, “The Men of Warrior.” The book features images and stills of the MMA fighters participating in the movie including Nate Marquardt and Erik Apple. Hopefully we will see more marketing behind the film as its opening approaches. Its not just a mixed martial arts film and hopefully people will not dismiss it because of any negative stereotypes.
Regardless of whether you are a fan of mixed martial arts, “Warrior” is one of the better films of 2011.