Brave, Beautiful Boys Beaten Brainless: Warrior

09/07/2011 4:00 AM |


Directed by Gavin O’Connor

Gavin O’Connor’s new film Warrior takes the new knuckleheaded family-on-family sports drama concept (The Fighter, The Wrestler) to especially grueling heights. Tommy (Tom Hardy) is a taciturn ex-Marine who’s returned to Pittsburgh to chew out his dad while training as a Mixed Martial Artist. His estranged ex-fighter brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a family man who teaches high school physics in Philadelphia. And as their former hellraiser father Paddy, Nick Nolte counts his sober days, doddering around with a Moby Dick cassette tape and a reconciliation strategy that usually goes over like a fart in church.

Soon, Brendan’s money problems and Tommy’s mysterious history in Iraq set them both on the same path to a zillion-dollar prize tournament, where—you guessed it—they go toe to toe in a Final Showdown. Warrior is fueled by this degree of coincidence, which, at its worst, smacks of outright pandering: Hardy’s character turns out to be a simultaneous war hero, deserter, witness to friendly fire and, in the space of mere months, an MMA prodigy.

But if you can suspend that much disbelief, this is viscerally compelling stuff. O’Connor aims to uncork stadium-sized emotions, but his fights are unusually long and persuasively tough. As the overdog, Tommy is bitter enough towards his dad that he becomes equally abusive, while the lesser fighter Brendan’s good looks—and his confidence—get pummeled at least once per reel. Reunions don’t always work out; apologies are stilted and uncomfortable. This world is complicated, unfair, and chock full of banalities, like the jibber-jabbering ESPN hosts playing Greek chorus to their big match. And Nolte’s performance, if not exactly groundbreaking, bears the stamp of real years lost to booze, pain, and regret. These actors give their characters sharply mixed-up emotional priorities, and thus while Warrior may be hokey, it’s also a trenchant case study of the thrill – and the despair—one gets from living life on the brink.

Opens September 9