Rocky MMA Style
Friday, September 9, 2011
"Warrior" (opening September 9 throughout San Diego) is a complete formula film raised quite a few notches by Tom Hardy's ferociously focused performance.
If "Warrior" does nothing else it builds intense anticipation for "The Dark Knight Rises." That's because Tom Hardy's riveting performance as a Tommy Conlon in "Warrior" plays like a teaser of things to come when he takes on the role of Bane in the next Batman movie.
"Warrior" is a fight film in the tried and true tradition of "Rocky." It's about underdogs, grizzled old trainers, training montages, women waiting in the wings, and lots of fights. This particular fight story plays out within a family: recovered alcoholic Paddy (Nick Nolte doing his best in years), eldest son and schoolteacher Brendan (Joel Edgerton), and youngest son Tommy (Hardy). Contrivance abounds to get this estranged family back together and involved in a winner-take-all MMA tournament. Brendan has to be threatened with losing his teaching job and his home before he's made desperate enough to go against his wife's wishes and to re-enter the ring (or more accurately the cage). And wild Tommy only comes back because he is driven my a mysterious reason to fight for a cause and destroy everything in his path. Tommy has no love for either his father or his brother but he sees a need for taking Paddy on as his trainer. So the brothers enter the tournament as opponents and in true Hollywood fashion they end up having to fight each other.
Director Gavin O'Connor has dealt with family melodrama ("Tumbleweeds") and sports competition ("Miracle") before but never the two in the same film. So the mix in "Warrior" is a bit awkward. The tangled and still raw emotions of the Conlon family are a nice backdrop against which to play this fight story but sometimes O'Connor has to grind the film to a halt to insert family scenes. Plus, the film takes far too long to bring what is essentially a predictable formula film to a conclusion. There's never any point along the way where we doubt the outcome of the film. But what keeps us engaged are the performances of the three main actors.
As I mentioned, Hardy is riveting. Every time he's on screen, I couldn't look away. But then I knew he had the power to dominate the screen based on his performance in "Bronson," about a hardened British lifetime criminal. As Tommy he has such pent up anger and energy that you just keep waiting for him to explode, and he does. But he tends to explode in the ring in highly focused moments of brutal and efficient violence. One look at his eyes and you know he means business. It's an amazing performance and I kept think I can't wait to see what he does with Bane. CAN NOT WAIT!
Trying to share the screen with Hardy is no easy task but Edgerton counters with a cooler, calmer presence, and Nolte engages us with his character's desperate need to make amends for a past he's not proud of. They make a fascinating family and the actors raise the film above its formula roots. They also make be buy into the dynamics of this troubled family.
"Warrior" tries to remain grittier and more low key than the recent true life fight film "The Fighter." Both films rely on formula and stereotypes but O'Connor keeps most of the over-the-top exaggeration to the fighting in the ring. And speaking of fights, the fights in "Warrior" are solid but not terribly imaginative in terms of how they are shot. Being a fan of Asian action films I tend to get spoiled by filmmakers who know how to make fights work on screen. O'Connor could use a little more creativity in staging and shooting his fights. He takes a workman-like approach to capturing the action and does the usual over cutting. There's a lot of fighting, which is good, but they all tend to all play out as very similar. Although Tommy's first couple fights are smartly and economically handled. (Check out the links below for some old school fight films from some classic film noir boxing films.)
"Warrior" (rated PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material) is a formula film but it delivers the formula in a satisfying manner. Getting exactly what you expect from a film can be a good thing, especially when you have Tom Hardy raising the bar by bringing his A-game.