It’s been a couple of weeks since my last update, and for that I am sorry. I have been meaning to increase the number of articles per week, but 2012 isn’t off to a great start in that sense. Maybe it’s because with all the holiday activities I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time on film or games. I did go to Dublin (Ireland) to celebrate NYE with three of my best friends. We didn’t go to some huge party or end up completely wasted leaning against a lamp post somewhere, but we did stumble upon a great pub where nothing less than a true bard managed to save our evening by playing everything from Pink Floyd to Thin Lizzy. And play them well he did, unlike Chino Moreno (who doesn’t hold his pre-concert drink very well), Guinness seemed to only further fuel this man’s awesome singing prowess. Factor in my own discovery of the local cider variety and the Irish girls’ penchant for setting new records of shortest skirts imaginable, and you can say we had a fitting conclusion to 2011. However, on a wholly unrelated note, before last year’s days were finally numbered, there was one rather surprising film I did see. That film is Warrior (2011) and much like its protagonists, it manages to beat the odds and be really, really good.
Directed by Gavin O’ Connor, Warrior tells the story of two estranged brothers who end up facing each other in a high profile MMA tournament called ‘Sparta’. Tommy Reardon, played by Tom Hardy, is the younger brother who just returned from Iraq and he’s pissed off about all things. Apparently, his unit was killed in Iraq during a friendly fire (isn’t) incident and he also feels his alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) is responsible for his mother’s death. Tommy’s definitely got his reasons to be angry. As such, beating the ever living crap out of his opponents in Sparta seems to grant Tommy some peace of mind, so that’s what he does for most of the film. The chance to actually participate in the tournament comes when a video of Tommy mercilessly kicking the local talent’s ass in a sparring session goes viral. The other brother, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), is a little less angry, but as a high school physics teacher he’s having a hard time making ends meet. In order to scrounge up some extra cash, he fights at local bars in underground type deals. Which his wife (Jennifer Morrison) is none too happy about when she finds out. Secretly though, I bet she finds the whole thing incredibly arousing. Not to mention the comfortable sum of money Brendan stands to make if he wins the tournament. Brendan’s shot at joining the Sparta line-up comes when he convinces his friend and former trainer to whip him back in shape. Meanwhile, Tommy made arrangements with his (and Brendan’s) father to train him for the coming tournament. He still hates his dad because of past grievances, but Tommy’s willing to have Paddy as a trainer and nothing more. It’s this triangle of stressed family ties that’s the driving force behind what makes Warrior so great. Without it, much of the drama would undoubtedly be lost.
If you’re just looking for pure entertainment value, the fights in Warrior are extremely well choreographed. The ones featuring Tom Hardy are rather short, but very exciting. Hardy looks like a god (as you can see in the poster above), which makes it all the more convincing when he storms through the ring, leaving nothing but a trail of blunt force trauma and broken dreams in his wake. But, what’s especially interesting about Warrior is that everything leads up to the confrontation between Tommy and Brendan, brothers. In the first Rocky film (1976), we were supposed to feel good about the underdog making an unlikely comeback, but Rocky didn’t actually win from Apollo. He simply managed to hold his own and that was more than enough to expect from the rookie. It was a little more realistic that way and didn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. Because Tommy and Brendan are brothers, you’re unsure who to root for and that subverts expectations in a similar manner. Over the years we’ve seen a lot of these sports films, and while they’re supposed to make the viewer feel excited and happy about the underdog beating insurmountable opponents, they never do a really good job of that. In most cases, the ham-handed yanking at heartstrings makes you feel nothing but embarrassment. All you’re left with are a couple of entertaining fights. By contrast though, O’ Connor is obviously a master of his craft. Everything this movie does, is finely tuned to amplify the raw emotion that’s unleashed during the final fight. It was a stroke of genius to have the competitors in this case be brothers. Maybe you need to have an actual brother to understand this, but the harm they inflict on each other is heartbreaking and there’s nothing you want more than for them to just hug it out. In doing so, Warrior positively transcends all the cliches that usually ruin films like these. Maybe it’s not an enduring work of art, but it did manage to make me feel a little misty near the end there. Just a little though.