Before Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman effort The Dark Knight Rises (2012) propels Tom Hardy’s stock into the stratosphere, he’ll already have three more films in the bag; John Hillcoat’s depression-era epic The Wettest County in the World (2012); McG action comedy This Means War (2012) and out this week, Gavin O’Connor’s cage fighting drama Warrior (2011), opposite Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte.
Hardy plays Tommy Conlon, a former US marine who turns up on his reformed alcoholic father Paddy’s (Nolte) doorstep for the first time in over a decade, and asks him to train him as a cage fighter. Their relationship is fraught, to say the least. It transpires that during his drinking years, Paddy was handy with his fists and so his ex-wife took off with the young Tommy, leaving his brother Brendan (Edgerton) to remain with her husband.
Brendan went on to become a school teacher and mixed martial artist, but never quite made the big leagues. However, financial stress forces him to move back into cage fighting, much to the chagrin of his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison).
If you can’t guess what happens next, you’ve probably received one too many flying elbows to the head and although the inevitable happens, there is just enough uncertainty as to what the eventual outcome will be.
Lazy critics have been comparing Warrior with the Rocky series, with which it has few similarities. There is, of course, plenty of fighting and working class grit on display, but Sylvester Stallone’s plucky boxer inspired empathy and the audience couldn’t help but root for him. The problem with Warrior is that although the idea of having two fighters to get behind seems like a good idea, earlier on you make a choice as to who you want to win the title, and if the brother you backed doesn’t succeed in the final bout, you may well be left unsatisfied with the outcome.
You also have to question the decision to go for a PG-13 rating. The move smacks of a studio stripping away anything considered too ‘adult’, in order to ensure that teenage fans of televised cage fighting are able to buy a ticket. Subsequently, the film’s drama is diluted and the themes of violence, war and alcoholism are not explored in any great depth. The potential for Warrior was clearly there, and two brief scenes with Nolte and Hardy provide us with a glimpse of how good this film could have been if the objective had been to make a truly affecting film, rather than simply money.
With lesser actors involved, this could have been an average yet entertaining sports movie. However, the cast of heavyweights just about mange to redeem the faults in the narrative. Hardy is excellent: broody, damaged and closed off from the world, his physical presence is something to behold. The man has everything, and watching his performance, you’d be forgiven for being reminded of a youthful Marlon Brando.
Edgerton is almost as good, proving that his brief but stand out role in David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom (2010) was not a one-off. As for the grizzled Nick Nolte, he certainly impresses, but its hard not to feel that his character is somewhat underdeveloped, a reflection of a watered-down script.
All in all, Warrior is a solid sports movie that the majority of people who go to see it will enjoy. However, it but could have been a great one if someone had shown as much balls in the production office as the fighters do in the cage.