Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Warrior [2011]

Director: Gavin O'Connor
Cast: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison
Genre: Drama/Sports/Martial arts
Rating: General
Comment: "Generic title, generic trailer and a seemingly generic premise as well. Which makes it easy to be surprised by how well-rounded it actually is..."


Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) returns home one night to discover his estranged son, Tommy (Tom Hardy) sitting on his doorstep. Their reunion is anything but heartwarming, with Tommy eventually revealing to his father that the only reason for his return is to be trained by his father in preparation to enter Sparta, the biggest MMA event the world has ever seen. Meanwhile, Paddy's other son Brendan (Joel Edgerton) also has Sparta in his sights, seeing it as the last resort to earn enough money so he wouldn't have to give up the home he's living in along with his wife and two daughters.

What to Expect
1. A well-balanced mix between drama and sports
2. A treat for MMA fans
3. Strong performances from the lead actors
4. Some artistic license to be taken
5. A movie that actually understands MMA

What NOT to Expect
1. Over-the-top male machismo
2. A straightforward action movie
3. Gratuitous fighting
4. An altogether predictable movie

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a relatively new sport, but its popularity is rising at such an unprecedented rate, it should come to no surprise that film-makers are coming up with ways to cash in on its fame. Funny thing about it is that, most of these films are just selling the whole MMA thing in name only; clearly they're just jumping on the bandwagon. They don't really seem to 'get' MMA. Examples of this include Never Surrender [2009] and Death Warrior [2009], both of which starred actual MMA athletes.

I have seen both and oh dear God. Simply put, they are no different than all those Straight-to-DVD Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal movies (and just as bad too!). But then Never Back Down [2008] came along and it was the first movie I've seen to do MMA justice, although it still roamed in the B-movie realm with its paper-thin plot and high school romance.

However, Gavin O'Connor's Warrior tried to make the fights as exciting and exhilarating as the real thing, but not at the expense of a credible human drama. Ladies and gents, I'm pleased to inform you that they managed to pull it off!

If you are able to look past the way they advertised this movie, then you would see that this movie was never meant to be taken simply as an MMA movie. Instead, it's a drama first and the characters just so happened to be fighters. So even though fighting is a testosterone-fuelled activity, the characters in this movie were actually very human, and not anything like those over-the-top, uninhibited tough guys who did nothing but shout, snarl and sneer all the goddamn time.

Now, you would have noticed that I said you shouldn't be expecting any gratuitous fighting in this movie. But that is in no way a bad thing or even weird. You see, while there are a lot of fighting in the movie, each fight scene didn't go any longer than it should. They were all used only as a plot device to reflect the main characters' personalities. For example, Tom Hardy's character Tommy was a hotheaded man, and also a man of few words. That personality of his was reflected in the ring where he was a brutish fighter who kept moving forward like a locomotive, always on a lookout for that one punch that could end the fight.

One more thing that I like about the fight scenes was how realistic they were. Of course, this I already have expected, after seeing how skillfully director Gavin O'Connor made the fight scene between Edward Norton and Collin Farrell in Pride and Glory [2008]. But that was just a fistfight, relatively easier to make with some cleverly-placed camera. Warrior featured MMA fighting, and that's a different ball game altogether.

People got punched, kicked, slammed and had their joints locked, I imagine someone must have gotten hurt at some point during the making of the movie. But I'm not saying they didn't take any artistic license altogether. Any avid MMA fan would easily spot some exaggerated reactions and even a few improbable one punch knockouts. But again, it was a movie after all, so some artistic license had to be taken to heighten the tension and drama. It hardly disrupted the movie watching experience, trust me.

The story was also just as strong as the fight scenes. This is one of those drama where there's no clear villain, if there's any. So even though you can feel right from the start that the two brothers are going to end up fighting each other, you wouldn't know which one to root for because both characters have a reasonable cause to not back away from the fight.

Also notable was how the movie didn't spoonfeed us with details of the plot. Initially you wouldn't have any idea why these three characters couldn't stand each other. It was like a jigsaw puzzle that you have to piece together through their dialogues and interactions, making you curious enough to see it until the end.

Should you go see it?
Yes. Very rarely you get to see a movie where its action sequences are just as interesting as the story. So after a while, your focus will shift from the fight sequences to the what the movie was really about; the characters. There was plenty of on-screen chemistry between Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton. Also notable was the character Frank Cambana, who was the trainer for Joel Edgerton's character, Brendan.

In short, the movie worked out for what it sought out to be, and unless you were expecting a straightforward action movie with some love scenes thrown in, you won't be disappointed.


asrap virtuoso said...

2011 has been kinda lukewarm for me so far... but this certainly is one of my favourites of the year..

Mamü Miguel Ellezda Vies said...

I'm inclined to disagree actually.
2011 saw the release of Source Code, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian, X-Men: First Class, Sucker Punch, Thor, The Big Bang and World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles.

And we have yet to see Immortals, coming next month. I'm a fan of Tarsem, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Zulfahmi said...

Not to forget Limitless and Hanna... and fans of Harry Porter wont be forgetting about this year so easily...

Yeah, I'm also excited about Immortals

Mamü Miguel Ellezda Vies said...

Of course, no movie came close to being as mindblowing as Inception this year. But they've all been great in their own right.

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