Tommy (Tom Hardy) the estranged younger son of reformed alcoholic boxing trainer Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) returns after the death of his mother and gets his father to train him for the $5 million Sparta mixed-martial arts tournament. His older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) - who is estranged from them both - is a married physics teacher and one-time scrap boxer who is about to lose his house to the bank. When he starts fighting at low rent gigs to try and cash up, unaware of Tommy's plans, he asks his trainer to enter him in Sparta, the toughest tournament in the world. But also the biggest prize money.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As fight films go, Warrior is as gutsy as they get, with not just a big cash prize at stake but a whole family. The screenplay builds on themes of guilt, grief, pain and love to flesh out a story about two sons and a father whose relationship was poured down the sink thanks to the alcohol Paddy (Nick Nolte) consumed in large quantities for many years.
The family had split in three, with Tommy (Tom Hardy) and his mum going their way, but Brendan (Joel Edgerton) was a teenager in love and stayed around - not too close to dad, though. Tommy resents them all, especially for being left to deal with his mother's illness and death.
This emotional backdrop is established through confrontations between the characters as a prelude to the big fight story, but it is interspersed with short fights to demonstrate that both brothers have fight in their genes - thanks to Paddy, a crusted, forlorn figure whose guilt is palpable. Nolte is terrific in the role, a complex blend of dried up pride, self loathing and yearning for forgiveness.
But Tommy is also self loathing, with a demon from the Iraq battlefield - which is hidden to all but himself by an act of bravery. This aspect of the story (with battlefield flashbacks) feels a little contrived and forced, but it doesn't detract from our engagement.
For Brendan, the stakes are simpler, although he is also distanced from his father and brother, clearly damaged by his upbringing. Absent father syndrome is a popular theme in recent films, and it always triggers profound emotional drama.
This is surely Edgerton's big break as an actor, working in highly respected company in a mainstream film that will spread his name around the world. He grabs the opportunity and delivers a succinct characterisation which evokes sympathy and understanding for both his financial and father/brother dilemmas.
As we would expect, each stage of the film escalates the stakes, whether in the fighting ring surrounded by wire (not so much a fence as a safety barrier for the audience), or in the fighting spaces between father and sons. We feel their anger, guilt and sorrow all rolled into a ball of pain.
Writer/director Gavin O'Connor brings out the issues about family ties and their broken legacy with dramatic power and delivers the final resolution with subtlety and sensitivity. All his team delivers first class work, from the images to the music and the design. Warrior is a punchy and engaging film that draws us into its world with a bear hug - but it only hurts in a good way.
Published first in the Sun-Herald.
Review by Louise Keller:
Emotions run far deeper than the bruises, cuts and scars from punishing rounds in the ring in this towering, punchy film in which redemption is the key theme. Three stunning performances by Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte characterize the battle for guilt, family and patriotism. Gavin O'Connor's adept screenplay is pitch perfect with the film's dramatic elements delivering an almighty emotional hit, as the physical blows deliver their own thrills. Nothing is left untouched in this hard-hitting drama, which grabbed me from the start and worked me over from all angles until I was happily emotionally spent.
As we meet the three members of the Conlon family, we quickly realise there is a lot of unfinished business between them. The exact nature of what has happened is slow to be revealed, but there is no doubting the pain, resentment and lack of forgiveness that is common to each. Nick Nolte, in one of his best roles of recent years, is perfectly cast as Paddy Conlon, the former boxing coach with an alcohol problem, who finds his younger and favoured black-sheep son Tommy (Hardy) on his doorstep after 14 years absence. Paddy's attempts at redemption have failed miserably despite giving up women, booze and discovering religion. Tommy's scars are so deep he is unable to even voice them or reveal what he has been doing in the past years. Even his heroic actions in Iraq are a secret - for bitter sweet reasons. He wants Paddy for one thing and one thing only - to train him for the upcoming winner-takes-all $5million mixed martial arts contest in Atlantic City.
Brendan Conlon (Edgerton) is the one family member who seems to have turned his life around - with a stable family life; a loving wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) and two young daughters. No longer a boxer, Brendan is now a physics teacher. But with his house facing foreclosure, he sees his only option as returning to the ring, much to Tess's concern and disapproval. She refuses to watch him fight. There's no love lost between him and his father, either.
It is on this knife edge that the dramatic elements of Warrior are built and there are many battles to be fought - not all of which are in the ring. The fight scenes are edge-of-seat experiences; heart rates will rise substantially through these sequences. O'Connor allows the tension to build slowly and by the time the inevitable confrontation between the two bothers occurs (symbolically wearing black and white), our emotions are at fever pitch. But it is not simply the action sequences that are powerful. A large tear rolled down my cheek as Nolte, with his hard-as-nails, lined face bares his soul to Hardy's Tommy, confessing 'We are all lost', while Hardy impresses by his intensity. This is a career-making role for Edgerton, who displays the whole gamut of emotions, leaving us with no doubt that we have really seen a film worthy of note.
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CAST: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn, Maximiliano Hernandez, Bryan Callen, Sam Sheridan, Fernando Chien, Jake McLaughlin, Vanessa Martinez, Denzel Whitaker
PRODUCER: Greg O'Connor
DIRECTOR: Gavin O'Connor
SCRIPT: Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Masanobu Takayanagi
EDITOR: Sean Albertson, Matt Chesse, John Gilroy Aaron Marshall
MUSIC: Mark Isham
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Leigh
RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 27, 2011