Movie Review: Warrior

Directed by Gavin O’Conner
Starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Campana, Kevin Dunn and Kurt Angle
Release Date: September 9, 2011

Warrior is a convincing look at a father and his two sons drowning in innumerable personal grief and universal issues, which result in each of them finding out who they truly are and were. Here is a film about the exploration of our true selves disguised as a mixed martial arts (MMA) movie. It is a visceral and blunt exploration into the anatomy of the alpha male. The subjects are the Conlons, from a working-class Pennsylvania town, who attempt to attain through any means necessary an anchor in which they can cling to when the emergence of reality becomes so widespread and ruthless. The Conlons, Paddy (Nick Nolte) along with his two estranged sons Brendan and Tommy (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy), decided to dismiss reality and walk away from it, never imagining it would come back and eventually start a war between father and sons and brother against brother.

Self-discovery becomes a necessity with these characters because the façade they are hiding behind is crumbling. Tommy, after having performed a heroic duty in the act of war, decides to flee the Marine Corps. He comes back home to confide in his father, who was once a severe alcoholic, only to find out he doesn’t drink any more (3 years sober). Angry, Tommy blasts his father, telling him, in a nerve-chilling opening scene, that he was the main reason his mother left and eventually died. The oldest son Brendan moved away from his father years ago. He situated himself in Philadelphia as a science teacher and has three daughters and a wife (Jennifer Morrison) who is compassionate and loyal. But once money becomes an issue and banks aren’t willing to loan him any more money, domesticity gets disturbed. Once they all experience the unrelenting force reality hits them with, they will no longer be reluctant to summon back their true personality, which is that of a fighter.

Paddy is simply trying to survive life at this point. His wife passed away and his two sons have moved away from him. He is an aging father, probably in his mid-to-late sixties, who trained his boys to wrestle and now owns a countenance that is worn, wrinkled and wearisome; true indicators of a life constantly threatened and attacked by conflicts, emotions and longings that all have their origins in his familial life. The façade in which he tries to hide behind is his sobriety. For three years he has been clean. Maybe his newfound cleanliness has to do with Brendan and Tommy explicitly denying him privileges to be a part of their own life. He wants to present himself better, to thrill his boys and cling to desperate hopes that they will accept their old man back into their lives.

A desperate hope in which they cling to is wrestling. Both Brendan and Tommy have had experience in MMA fighting. Once they get word about Sparta, a 16-man tournament done in two days in Atlantic City to determine whom the toughest man in the world is, they enter, get accepted and begin to train. And what separates the Conlon’s from all other competitors is they have something to fight for: their livelihood, their father, their family, themselves and the past.

Paddy tries to ease tensions when it initiates by listening to an audio recording of Melville’s Moby Dick. Paddy is Ahab; a disheveled man adamantly obsessed with a particular something. In Ahab’s case it was the great white whale: In Paddy’s case it is his great dark past. And his obsession to right the wrongs is so forceful and pervasive, that it latches onto his sons, who both seek, like their father, absolution of their past sins.

Warrior discharges a heap of emotion and enormous amounts of vigor. Such are qualities of numerous films of individuals who are down on their luck and looking to make an inspirational comeback. The film doesn’t show a flat-out rejection of the merely fashionable. Yes the film is contrived and melodramatic, enthusiastically embracing such qualities. But it is done so in a way that provides so much emotional wallop, that its initial impact will crush you.

Paddy, Brendan and Tommy are vibrant with the energy of unfulfilled yearnings. Externally they try to project an impenetrable armor to the soul. But secretly hoping something can be harmful enough to the armor that it pierces it, allowing convalescence to occur.

The film possesses a willingness and ability to see things as they evidently are. Director Gavin O’Conner (Pride and Glory) makes it explicitly clear that man is vulnerable, and that the institutions we instill so much faith in (governments, banks, schools, military) have the tendencies to dismiss our pleas as they act as if the ordinary man’s problems are mere trivial hardships. The contemporary landscape for the Conlons is bleak. Nothing prosperous or hopeful can derive from it. Brendan and Tommy are only left with one option, and that is to fight in a way that is reminiscent of the gladiatorial times in ancient Rome. MMA is a primal sport, but it’s the only way they can be alleviated of their economic, spiritual and emotional shortcomings.

****1/2 out of *****

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