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30 September 2011

Boys Don't Cry

I've seen a lot of films about boy sports recently -- Senna, The Fighter, The Wrestler, The Damned United  and so on. The one common feature of these films is that they have all been described as "not really being about X sport so much as telling the story of two men." Warrior is also tale of two men (brothers) but it is also about a boy sport of sorts, mixed martial arts (MMA), if you don't like the idea of cage fighting, you probably won't enjoy it. Interestingly, although it ran for 2h20, it was pacey enough that I didn't start to get twitchy until 1h45, and that was mainly because the final 40 minutes was almost all fighting and very little "tale of two dudes." I hadn't heard any reviews of Warrior; assuming I probably wouldn't be interested, I even tuned out of Dr Kermode's commentary of this film. It sounded a lot like The Fighter: two estranged brothers, who each have their own demons but who are brought together through their mutual desire to fight. But the two films follow two quite different paths.

In Warrior, Tom Hardy plays Tommy, the younger son of Paddy (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic and former boxer. The two have been estranged since Tommy and his mother left Paddy and Paddy's older son Brendan (Joel Edgerton), presumably because of Paddy's alcoholism, but now Tommy is returning home to small-town Pennsylvania because he wants to fight again. He was a prize-winning wrestler while at school but it is initially unclear what he has been doing since then. It later emerges that he was a marine who, while in the process of deserting after the rest of his unit is killed in friendly fire, tears a door off a tank to rescue some drowning troops. Presumably, he wants to do MMA to numb the pain or to distract him. I say presumably again because we don't find out that much of Tommy's back story and the parts we do learn are revealed briefly and rarely.

We do know a lot about Brendan, however, and initially he seems to have a perfect life: he's a popular physics teacher with a pretty wife and two young daughters. But he also works nights as a bouncer for a club to try to keep on top of the mortgage and after one of his daughters needs a heart operation, he can no longer make his payments and so decides to return to his old MMA ways to prevent his family losing their house. Then the school district superintendent finds out about his extra-curricular activities and suspends him for a semester. The only possible way he can keep his house is if he persuades his old friend Frank to coach him in the art of MMA and then enter Sparta, an MMA contest set up by a bored banker, which offers $5 million prize money. There are 16 contestants and it's a straight knock-out competition.

As Warrior is highly predictable, we know that the two brothers will fight in the final, after one of them has knocked out Koba, the bad-ass, Russian world champ. And although we are supposed to be proud of Tommy's heroism, it's hard to really root for him when it seems as though Brendan seems to have a much better reason for winning--and we when we've seen Brendan's pretty wife and cute daughters and think how awful it would be for them to lose their home. And when we keep cutting to shots of his high school students cheering him on back at home (they are showing the contest at a drive-in movie theatre). If he wins, Tommy has pledged to give the prize money to the wife of his best friend, who died with the rest of his unit, but she only gets about 25 seconds of screen time, so it's hard to be truly sympathetic.

Meanwhile, both brothers fall out with each other and with their father. Tommy's rejection of his reformed father seems so cruel until Paddy relapses and we finally get to see the father that he has been to Tommy and Brendan for most of their lives. None of these family issues are resolved at the end. In fact, not much of anything is resolved at the end and the film ends almost immediately after the winner is unveiled. I was torn between wanting Brendan to win because he was the underdog and because it seemed like he needed it more, and wanting Tommy to win because Tom Hardy is hot, even when he's excessively stacked and tattooed and has a US accent.

I didn't really need to see another movie about boy sports, especially not another one about boys beating the shit out of one another in a cage, for fun and profit, and I probably wouldn't have seen Warrior if O2 weren't giving their customers one free ticket to Odeon cinemas every week at the moment, but I ended up liking Warrior, even though the plot was more complicated than it needed to be and had too many irrelevant, minor sub-plots; even though there were were too many long fighting scenes; and even though only one of the main characters was developed very well.

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