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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Warrior | Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Jennifer Morrison | Review

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Warrior

Right off the bat, I have to say I am not a fan of boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts, or any other so called sport that is all about opponents beating each other to a pulp with the potential for causing a life threatening injury.  I don't see this as a form of spectator entertainment and find it appalling and despicable to say the least. Yet, when it comes to movies set in and around that brutal sport that's another thing, altogether.

If a movie is good, it doesn't matter the genre. If all the right elements are in place, meaning the piece is well crafted, featuring actors who are believable in a compelling story that hits the right chord, then all kinds of audiences, including those who are sport fans or not will be drawn to it.

Warrior is a perfect example. If you liked Rocky, Raging Bull and last year's The Fighter, then add Warrior to the list of outstanding films that take you into the world of professional fighters.This is a flick that hits a powerful punch, both figuratively and literally and goes beyond being a fictional story about fighters competing for the biggest purse in the history of the MMA. Warrior is also a deeply moving family drama dealing with issues such as redemption, reconciliation and ultimately, forgiveness.

The film features Oscar worthy performances by British actor Tom Hardy (Inception) and Australian Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom), who display no signs of their native accent, as estranged brothers and Nick Nolte as their recovering alcoholic father.

Warrior moves back and forth between two parallel stories that eventually intersect. Tommy Conlon (Hardy), an Iraqi war veteran, returns home to Pittsburgh after 14 years with one thing on his mind.  A former wrestling prodigy who gave it up years ago to take care of his mother that died of cancer, he is determined to compete in SPARTA, billed as “the superbowl of mixed martial arts” to be held in Atlantic City with the winner take all $5 million purse, the biggest prize in the history of the sport.

Although he harbors hatred and resentment towards his Dad, Paddy (Nolte) for being an irresponsible, abusive drunk, and was forced to leave with his sick mom, Tommy needs to enlist his old man as his trainer/coach to get him in shape as an invincible fighting machine. Paddy, who has been sober for 1,000 days and counting, thinks this is a chance to reconcile with his long lost son. But, for the angry Tommy, who would rather have nothing to do with his  father and has taken his mother's maiden name of Reardon, their relationship is strictly business and nothing more.

Meanwhile, Tommy has been estranged from his older brother Brendan for years and hasn't forgiven him for going off and marrying his childhood sweetheart, Tess (Jennifer Morrison) and not being there when their mother died. Brendan, on the other hand, felt his Dad didn't care about him and only showed interest in Tommy. The only thing the brothers share besides a bloodline is their mutual disdain for their father.

Unbeknownst to Tommy, Brendan, is dealing with major problems of his own and is headed on a path that will bring the siblings face to face in a way they never imagined.

Brendan lives with his loving wife and two young daughters in Philadelphia and after giving up a career as a UFC fighter, he now works as a high school physics teacher, but is over his head trying to make ends meet because of huge medical bills for his sick daughter. Upside down on his mortgage and looking at foreclosure, Brendan secretly starts fighting in strip club parking lots at night in order to make extra cash, a turn that gets him suspended from school without pay when the principal and superintendent find out.

Desperate to save his home and support his family, Brendan visits his old friend Frank (Frank Grillo) at his gym and begs him to be his trainer and for the opportunity to compete in SPARTA. As the brothers' individual stories unfold, we get to see them train for the event, each unaware the other is competing in the same competition until they catch each others eye at the beginning of the event.

In the process of elimination, the two left standing to battle for the prize should come as no surprise. It is a collision course that will have ramifications far beyond the cage.

Director Gavin O'Connor (2004's Olympic hockey movie “Miracle”) co-wrote the screenplay with Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman and he doesn't deliver one false move or a wasted moment leading up to the powerful conclusion.
The no holes barred fight scenes are intense, brutal and so convincing that you can almost feel each painful punch and jab as they land.

You can't help but invest yourself in the well developed characters. Tommy, Brenden and Paddy are all damaged people with deep emotional wounds that are conveyed in different ways. Tommy, a brooding loner unleashes his pent up rage in the ring, where he doesn't waste any time. Anxious to eliminate each of his opponents, he goes in, does what he has to and then quickly leaves the arena. Hardy is nothing less than phenomenal in his gut wrenching, fierce portrayal of the man who is a seething, raging bull, with a haunting secret from his stint as a marine. He doesn't have to say a word, you can see his pain and anguish in his eyes, and through his amazing body language.

Edgerton is excellent, drawing sympathy as the conflicted Brendan, a family man and good guy who is loved by his students and is willing to do anything for his wife and kids, even if it means putting his life on the line. Brendan is the underdog who enters the competition as 1,000 to 1 shot at the title, and is described as a “goldfish in a shark tank”.

Nolte, making a superb comeback to the big screen, is heart breaking as the boys' father, a broken man that listens to an audio recording of Moby Dick when not trying to make amends with his sons and longs to be part of their lives. His scenes are in no way manipulative and will bring you to tears.

The onslaught of strong Oscar contenders are yet to be released.  However, at this time Warrior is my pick for best film of 2011 and Hardy and Edgerton stars should be nominated for Best Actor, with Nolte a shoo-in for Best Male Support.
I am not going to pull any punches. Brilliantly executed in every way, Warrior is a knockout and a top contender come award season.

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