Tales of father vs. son, and brother vs. brother conflicts contain ingredients that unfailingly make grown men cry. Warrior will make tough guys bawl (watching at home, alone, of course).
It’s the archetypal story of how divorce, and the early loss of the mother, combined with a distant (or violent) father, wreaks havoc on the bond between brothers, uniting them only in their hatred of the father and each other.
Warrior is secondarily a movie about the world’s fastest growing sport—mixed martial arts (MMA)—which is the real-deal, modern-day world of warriors. It’s a calling; these men love what they do. If you like the fight game, this movie will have you yelling and jumping out of your seat. It’s that good.
Here’s a quick history of MMA and modern fighting for the uninitiated: In the 1960s there was no kicking—that was for girly men. Then came Bruce Lee, whose spectacular, high roundhouses and spinning back kicks were high-tech weaponry, and kicking became cool.
Enter the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the early 1990s, pitting various martial art styles against each other. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu dominated, whereupon standup fighters swarmed to get a good grappling or ground game.
Rapidly, fighters mastered boxing and karate for hand and foot striking, Muay Thai for elbows and knees, wrestling and judo for takedowns, and Jiu-Jitsu for chokes and joint-locks. Jiu-Jitsu is also called “submission fighting”—being strangled or joint-locked, the loser has to “tap out,” or else risk breaking bones or losing consciousness (“tap, snap, or nap”).
And now, the film’s story: There are two brothers. One, Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), is a former Marine with a tragic secret; the other, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), is a high-school physics teacher, and family man.
Tommy enlists the father he hates (Nick Nolte), but who trained him to great victories in wrestling as a youth, to train him again for Sparta, a fictitious MMA worldwide event with a winner’s purse in the millions.
Brendan, facing foreclosure on his house and wanting to keep his family from homelessness, goes back to moonlighting (forbidden by his wife, played charismatically and convincingly by the comely Jennifer Morrison), taking illegal MMA fights for money. This eventually puts Sparta in his sights, thus setting the brothers on an inevitable collision course.
Two siblings fighting in the world’s top MMA venue? An overly convenient deus ex machina script ploy perhaps? It could happen—look at the Williams sisters at Wimbledon. There was also the “Manning Bowl” (brothers Peyton and Eli Manning, both NFL quarterbacks), which older brother Peyton won.
While the two lead actors in Warrior would get quickly pulverized in an actual top-level MMA cage fight despite their black belts, they are world-class professional chameleons. They built muscle and trained like fiends. These guys are fabulous, especially considering that one’s a Brit and the other’s an Aussie and they come off as 100 percent believably all-American.
Nick Nolte should get an Oscar for this performance, or a nomination at the very least. It’s a role that’s directly in his power-alley of grizzled ex-powerhouses—arguably easy for him. But acting is being private in public, and Nolte’s courage to be this vulnerable, along with the natural raw power of his personality, is jaw-dropping.
As mentioned, being a warrior is a calling for some men. Traditionally, the realm of the warrior takes joy in hardship, and pride in forbearance of pain. It idolizes commitment, fearlessness, honor, integrity, accountability, and yes—mercy. All men have an inner warrior, which loves these things.
The shadow side of the warrior contains rage, hatred, bullying, jealousy, competitiveness, domination, showing off, ruthlessness, demonic tattoos, and blood. Unfortunately, men also love these things.
One brother embodies more of the dark warrior; the other more of the opposite, training to Beethoven in order to cultivate his inner ability to remain emotionally calm and unmoved. This naturally sets up a powerful dissonance. It calls for a powerful resolution.
This is an extreme roller coaster ride of raw male emotion, and man-oh-man, does this movie deliver dissonance and resolution like few you’ve ever seen before. When all is said and done—the menfolk will bawl their eyes out. Privately.