Tuesday, September 13, 2011


MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (L)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Warrior (directed and screenplay/story cowritten by Gavin O'Conner along Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorman) proves to be a surprisingly good movie of this type.  I say surprising because as we talked about this movie in my local Servite community a number of days back, our general consensus was that a fair number of movies have traversed similar ground in recent years -- The Wrestler (2008) and The Fighter (2010).  So we, I believe, legitimately wondered what another movie of this kind could add.  And yet, as I say, I found the movie to be surprising...

I suppose to understand what makes a movie like this work is to understand that movies like this involve two metaphors -- "struggle," and then not just a private/anonymous struggle (which no one sees) but one which has been "elevated to a public stage."   The viewer of this kind of movie is invited to watch the central character of the movie _struggle_, often against _far more_ than just against _mere_ "opponents in the ring" but against various hardships in life (with which we can often identify) and then do so _publicly before all_.  Isn't this the essence of the Rocky (1976) movies and The Gladiator (2000) on which all movies of this story-line/genre are based?

Very good then, what could a "new movie" utilizing this story-line possibly add?  Here is where Warrior gets surprisingly interesting.  First and foremost, the two central characters in the Warrior, Brendan (played by Joel Edgarton) and Tommy (played by Tom Hardy) are two adult _brothers_, from a very dysfunctional, indeed broken family.  Their father, Paddy Conlon (played by Nick Nolte) a veteran of the service was both abusive and a drunk, so much so that his (since deceased) wife left him along with younger son Tommy, (while older son Brendon for reasons we find out in the movie stayed with his father).  Both brothers are deeply scared by their upbringing.  After his mother dies, Tommy joins the Marines and goes to war.  Brandon, grows up to be a physics teacher and marries his high school sweetheart Tess (played by Jennifer Morrison) and attempts to raise "a normal family."

The _one thing_ that both the boys have learned from their father was "how to fight."  Drunk and abusive as he was, Paddy did encourage both, particularly Tommy, in being star quality high school  wrestlers.  And both following high school had become good scrappy fighters in a relatively new (and tremendously brutal) arena sport called Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

The movie begins with a very angry Tommy showing-up in Pittsburgh at the doorstep of his father's house under somewhat mysterious circumstances (wasn't he supposed to be at war?)  He comes back only to berate his old dad (who tries to tell his son that he's been sober now for 3 years, nearly 1000 days).  No matter, Tommy has no time for that.  He shows up, yells at his dad and then leaves.  In the days following, Tommy finds his way to a local MMA gym, where he just beats the daylights out of supposedly one of the better fighters in the sport, and certainly the pride gym owner, Colt Boyt (played by Maximiliano Hernandez) who definitely takes notice.

In the meantime, in Pennsylvania's other major city, Philadelphia (the fictional home of course of Rocky Balboa of the Rocky movies) Brendan's been trying to put together and maintain a normal life with his wife Tess and their two daughters.  It hasn't been easy.  The couple had refinanced their mortgage a number of years back to help pay _for a heart operation_ for one of their little daughters and with the housing market collapse find themselves hopelessly underwater in their mortgage.  Besides working as a physics teacher at a local high school, Brendan bounces at a bar on the side.  Tess also works as a part-time waitress/barmaid as well.  But it's hopeless.  One Saturday night, on his way to his "bouncing" job, Brendan passes a local strip club offering a $500 prize for a MMA pickup fight in a make-shift rink on the strip-club's parking lot.  He stops, enters and wins.  However, when he comes back to school on Monday (his face still bearing the marks of his Saturday fight) thanks to YouTube even the high school kids know that he won those $500 and how.  His boss, Principal Zito (played by Kevin Dunn) is forced to suspend him _without pay_.  With even less options than before, Brendan tells his wife that if nothing else this MMA is relatively "easy money" (at the cost of being beaten up and possibly killed) and seeks out his former MMA buddy Frank Campana (played by Frank Grillo) who now runs a gym to help him train.

Finally while all this is taking place in the lives of the chief protagonists in the story, a super-rich "hedgefund manager" named Mark Bradford (played by Jake McLaughlin) announces to sports television network ESPN's _glee_ that he's going to sponsor a $5 Million "Winner Take All" MMA tournament that he calls "Sparta" 6 weeks hence in Atlantic City.  Mark Bradford does this simply because "he can" and because, he tells ESPN, "Just like a kid wants to know who's the toughest kid on the block, I want to find-out who's the toughest guy on the Planet."  There are slots for 16 fighters.  Since MMA is obscure enough of a sport,  both Tommy and Brendan get into the tournament.  Colt Boyt whose star, Pete "Mad-Dog" Grimes (played by Erik Apple), had been beaten-up by Tommy in the rink that one day, helps Tommy get into the tournament.  Brendan gets in because Frank Campana's star fighter gets hurt just before the tournament starts. 

As the tournament begins, the ESPN sportscasters are skeptical of both Tommy and Brendan.  A video of Tommy beating the daylights out of "Mad Dog" Grimes had circulating around YouTube (but was that a fluke?) and even less was known of Brendan.  Other legitimate (and fearsome) stars, including a Russian fighter named Koba (played by Kurt Angle) had entered the contest.  But that video of Tommy beating-up "Mad Dog" Grimes had made it all the way to Iraq, where a number of Marines identified Tommy as someone who had literally "ripped the door off of a sinking and burning tank" saving all its crew-members but had (mysteriously) not stopped to be thanked never-mind honored with any medal.  What's with that?  (There's a reason, that becomes clear in the film).  In any case, Tommy comes to the tournament with a large and grateful Marine fan-base.  Brendan too has his high schoolers, even the Principal, cheering for him, but nobody takes him seriously.  But he's fighting literally for his home ...

So _both_ Tommy and Brendan, brothers, have compelling stories and yes, we want both of them to win.  The _awful tragedy_ is in this story is that _only one can win_.

And that is _exactly_ what I believe this movie _adds_ to the "fighter" story-line.  Here we want _both_ of these bruised brothers to be able to win (and yes, to _reconcile_ rather than keep "fighting" even with their deeply flawed but also with the haze of the alcohol finally gone _deeply repentant_ dad).  But the circumstances are _staged_ so that _only one can win_.  And who is this scenario _staged_ by?  A "hedgefund manager" _a modern day God_ who like a Greek God of old, may not be evil, but considers humanity something to be played with _for his own amusement_.  Wow.

So on the surface, Warrior may seem "just like any other fighter/gladiator-like movie," but _just like_ most other fighter/gladiator-like movies, there's a lot more going on than meets the eye, and Warrior actually becomes one of the better ones in this regard, for Warrior as _staged_ as it is, becomes a surprisingly _multi-leveled_ parable about life.

Finally for those who may wish a _direct connection_ with the Bible/Christianity/our Faith, as I've mentioned in other reviews on this Blog, the metaphor of "struggle" also appears famously in the Bible with Jacob finding himself wrestling with an unknown opponent in the Desert one night _in a key moment in his life_,  where at the end of the night Jacob is given by his opponent a new name, Isra-el. which we are told means, "one who wrestles with God." (Genesis 32:23-34).

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