Friday, 30 December 2011

Film Review: Warrior

Struggling physics teacher Brenden (Edgerton), seemingly one of the millions of Americans duped into cheap credit during the housing market bubble, needs dough to prevent the foreclosure of his home. Brother and ex-vet, Tommy (Hardy), needs cash to fulfil a promise to the wife of a dead comrade killed in Iraq. Sharing a common alienation from their father (Nolte), the two burly brothers enter the Sparta MMA tournament offering a $5million prize in yet another Rocky-inspired fight film.

Warrior doesn't do much different from other films of this Rocky-inspired genre; dysfunctional families, training montages, overcoming insurmountable odds, culminating in a grand showdown at the end, but done with the aplomb of very good performances. Warrior is a film of two halves, the first charting the two brother's background and their former-alcoholic father who has left each screwed up in their own individual ways. Tommy continues in the vicious cycle of alcoholism precedented by his father. Brenden on the other hand taking the Batman option of not letting events mould him, vowing never to become that man and subsequently building a reasonably successful life for himself. Indeed, their fight styles reflect the experiences that shaped their personalities. Tommy escaped from the abuse with their mother who later died, now harbouring wrought resentment toward the man he blames for his desolate existence. Brenden however stayed in the hope that he, the 'less favourite son', would get more attention in their absence, which of course was a miscalculation. As such, Tommy is quick and brutal, channelling his rage and obviously with something to prove while Brenden is more controlled, able to take copious punishment and still prevail against the odds.

It is this personal exposition where the film works best, but is unfortunately let down by both plot holes and a sudden shift in tone when big 'Sparta' tournament becomes the central focus in the second half of the film. Everything becomes a little bit tawdry as all the hard work done previously seems to fade into obscurity. The final fight for example gives both brothers some sort of epiphany and unexplained capacity for forgiveness, bizarre given their former vehement attitudes toward their father. Unfortunately these irregularities are frequent. For example, Tommy is alluded to having a drug problem which is never extrapolated upon. Likewise, despite being utterly contemptuous of his old man Tommy agrees to be trained by him who, whilst an atrocious father, still somehow managed to be a wily coach in between all the drinking. Brenden conversely fortuitously benefits from that age old Hollywood convention of taking the place of an injured fighter who was supposed to enter the competition in his steed.

Still, despite the irritating plot holes performances remain constantly engaging throughout. Edgerton permeates a sympathy given his young family facing foreclosure. He is the 'Rocky' character, the film's underdog with everything on the line. Tommy on the other hand is supreme as a nihilistic miscreant, any soul having long since been smashed into tiny pieces. A man of little words, there is a tangible sense of someone wanting to scream at a world he views as having thrown him to the curb, destroying anyone who crosses his path. And yet, a touching scene in a hotel room with his father shows there is a redeeming feature and that something good remains. Warrior actually so nearly becomes the Hardy show if not for the brilliant Nick Nolte, a man seeking forgiveness from the sons that have forsaken him because of his past indiscretions. Clearly he is guilty of bad things, but his quest for redemption is palpably lamentable. It makes for tragic yet equally arresting viewing.

Warrior is poignant, to a point. While there are shades of complex emotional delineation in the same vain as other films featuring similar mechanics, notably The Fighter, it just falls short K.Oing its own histrionic trope. In many ways its predictable right up until the end fight when the two inevitably meet each other. To its credit, perhaps the outcome is at least initially not so certain, but it all makes sense when the final bell rings. This isn't as fervid as The Fighter, and doesn't exactly do anything new with the sports genre, but it is satisfying enough to put it in the top half of good films this year.