NOTE: THIS FILM IS SOMEWHAT DIFFICULT TO DISCUSS IN BROAD STROKES WITHOUT SPOILING SOME BASIC PLOT INFORMATION (IT'S JUST A LITTLE BIT MORE THAN YOU GET FROM THE TRAILERS) SO PLEASE BE WARNED.
Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) had to pay for an operation for his daughter's heart and that has really set him back financially. The bank is going to foreclose on his house. He used to be an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter in the UFC, so he decides to go and train for some fights that will make him a lot of money. He hears of this 5-million dollar massive MMA tournament prize and despite disagreements from his wife (Jennifer Morrison), he decides to grab a trainer and sign up. Brendan is viewed as fighting for his family.
Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), a former boxer, is Brendan's estranged dad. Paddy returns home one night to find his other son, Tommy (Tom Hardy), at his doorstep. Tommy was a former wrestler when he was a kid, later became a marine, and is now going by his deceased mother's maiden name. He made a promise to a fallen comrade's wife that he would help take care of her and her children. He wants to enter the same tournament that Brendan is thinking of entering, but would like his father to train him. Tommy is viewed as fighting his country.
Now, if you've seen a trailer or read a synopsis for the film, you know a little bit about the premise, but despite all I've said- there are still a few questions. Why do Tommy and Brendan hate their father? What did Brendan do to Tommy when he was younger? Why did Tommy and his mother move away? Why is Tommy back home from the war? What else happened overseas? By the first half hour, this has the makings of a great drama, but the end result is very cliche due to spotty character and story development. Then again, despite being so deliberate of a choreographed plot, the class of acting was enough to make me overlook some shortcomings. I just hope this isn't the film that wins the "mainstream and popular nominee-vote" at all the industry and critics award shows (that honor should deservedly go to Super 8).
I had to take a few things for granted concerning Brendan. He didn't train as long as Tommy and despite being seen as keeping physically fit, when dealing with the best-of-the-best in a middleweight tournament, I'm surprised that after a quick training-montage, he is ready to compete. I just didn't see him as likely to win as Tommy (a former marine). Paddy also makes a choice at one point in the film that goes back on his values and sure I see it coming, but there really isn't any more or less of a repercussion from it or at least one that was unpredictable. The same goes for Brendan's wife, Tess. She makes a choice in concerns to supporting her husband that no matter how predictable it is, it just comes out of nowhere and doesn't feel supported by the story's emotional weight. Another "fighting film" about brothers from last year, The Fighter, played with audience expectations through its screenplay, something that Warrior does not do nearly as well.
Of course, if you've seen the previews, you know that Tommy and Brendan end up making it to the finals to face each other. Unfortunately, by the time the final fight rolls around, you can pretty much tell who is going to win. For a film where you aren't sure who to root for over who (after all, they both have compelling reasons), I'd prefer if it didn't end the way it did. There are some resolutions left unresolved and I understand that it is apparent and clearly artistic choice of writer-director Gavin O'Connor (Tumbleweeds, Miracle). Still, if Tommy gets the money, Brendan loses his house. If Brendan gets the money, a widowed woman may not be able to support her family. Without ruining the nature of the ending, I can just say that you will be left with some more questions mostly relating to asking if Brendan's family or Tommy's comrade's family will be able to support themselves depending on who wins. Don't worry, there is a winner. It's what happens right after the fight (the closing frame of the film) that I take some issue with. No denying it's inspirational and closes one line of questioning concerning Brendan and Tommy's relationship, but opens a whole other box of possibilities.
Like I've been saying, so much of the film is revealed in its advertised premise, that you find yourself relying on the character's dialogue and the caliber of acting. The film therefore, becomes a showcase of three phenomenally talented individuals giving three very nuanced performances. Hardy (Bronson, Inception) and Edgerton (The Square, Animal Kingdom) prove that they are the performers of tomorrow. I feel that Nolte's performance will be recognized by various award-giving organizations and perhaps with a career ranging from 48 Hours to The Prince of Tides to Affliction to Tropic Thunder, he deserves that sympathy vote.
This is O'Connor's second feature that deals with brothers who are put on a collision course against each other with their father watching from the sidelines. I'm referring to his most recent film, Pride and Glory, a cop drama starring Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, and Jon Voight. He seems fascinated by the question of nothing being "thicker than blood." When a family falls apart to the point where you don't love your own kin, I can't imagine what that is like. I have to give O'Connor credit for continuing to explore what he wants and he seems to only be getting stronger despite each riskier project he takes on.
Technically speaking, the cinematography and editing are great and the sound design is impeccable. There is a great special feature on the Miracle DVD where O'Connor talks about the care he put into the sound design of the hockey scenes and many of the same production values he mentions there can be seen and heard during the fights in this film. The music is a little too ominous and foreboding at times, but the original song About Today by The Nationals that plays during the finale is terrifically timed and placed.
The ending is damn inspiring and if you don't go in with over-expectations, you'll probably have a stirring emotional reaction to the material. Maybe in a few days, I'll be thinking differently about this movie. After all, just because I've seen this type of film before, doesn't make it any less valuable to another audience.