Warrior tells the story of the broken Conlon family, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Tommy (Tom Hardy) & Paddy (Nick Nolte). Writer/director Gavin O’Connor and his co-writer Anthony Tambakis haven’t merely assembled Mixed Martial Arts’ (MMA) answer to Rocky; they’ve dived into the lives of fighters (and soldiers) that must figuratively and literally fight to repair themselves and their family. Without the trio of spectacular near devout performances Warrior couldn’t have gone the distance.
Nick Nolte’s turn in Warrior echoed the kind of career revitalising performance that Mickey Rourke delivered in The Wrestler. His performance is loaded with everything that the audience can know about his acting and public personas. Paddy reeks of desperation; he’s on a crusade for forgiveness and to salvage a connection with his sons. The former volatile violent alcoholic drove away his wife and his youngest son Tommy (Hardy) to another city, and his teen son Brendan (Edgerton) away with his then girlfriend (later his wife Jennifer Morrison). When we arrive into his life he’s gentle, and subdued but subtly exudes an intense temper;
he’s tortured and it’s etched on his face. His former titanic power and presence on screen informs and enhances his characterisation. There is something totally disarming and mellifluous about his gravelly voice that magnifies his presence. His performance is powerful, redemptive and heart-breaking.
Hardy reminds you of a younger mix of cinematic actor chameleons like Robert De Niro or Gary Oldman. As Tommy his physical presence is astounding, his powerful frame jumps out of the screen. He’s the brutal ‘striker’ fight style who intimidates his opponents. And as a character he’s also another fractured and tortured soul, unable to forgive his father’s past indiscretions. He’s antagonistic and one to goad confrontation and intimidate. There are numerous scenes that he convincingly strikes fear into people and you’re in the audience feeling a similar sense of intimidation. He’s laconic, hard distant and he’s riveting to watch. But not to be outdone he’s got a story (that I won’t spoil) that informs his actions and we’re allowed glimpses of this leading to the films climax.
Edgerton’s ‘every-man’ underdog Brendan is a fighter in every sense of the word. He’s not got the natural talent of his brother Tommy, he’s not the favourite child, he doesn’t earn great money but he’s the family man. He’s clawed and scraped for everything that he’s got and he doesn’t want to be given a free ride. Edgerton’s face looks like a fighter’s face. He’s civilised, subtle but fiercely determined. Brendan’s rides the underdog arc but Edgerton gives it the necessary reality that it doesn’t feel manufactured. Seeing Edgerton across from Hardy in a tense scene on the Atlantic City beach, shows that despite his smaller frame, he has an unwavering determination matches Hardy’s presence.
Gavin O’Connor’s direction is phenomenal. Warrior is narrated by the audiobook that Nolte’s character is constantly listening to, Moby Dick. It’s a fascinating and penetrating element that contrasts the grit of the gladiatorial combat. The aesthetic contrast is most pronounced comparing the warmth and light of Brendan’s home life with the dark, desolate steel of Paddy and Tommy. The fighting is authentic but also significantly dramatized. The sound design was used greatly to punctuate the violence with the sounds of flesh being pounded, bodies slamming against canvas or mesh and blood curdling bone breaks. Wincing is a measure of success.
To quote Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick, “that immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valour-ruined man.” Warrior is an ode to valour-ruined men, in war, in peace, in the octagon.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Director: Gavin O’Connor Written by: Gavin O’Connor and Anthony Tambakis Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte and Jennifer Morrison