It is difficult to find that perfect balance in a sports film. Does a director focus on the sport itself, or the drama that surrounds it? Gavin O’Connor seems to have that niche down; The director of Miracle returns with Warrior, a mixed martial arts film with plenty of clichés, but delivers a right punch straight to the heart that is sure to make any of those fighters in the octagon burst into tears.
If you didn’t develop a crush (or man crush) for Tom Hardy after Inception, then he will definitely be on your list after watching Warrior. The English actor bulked up to play Tom Conlon, a former stand-out wrestler who disappeared off the face of the planet after he and his mom left his alcoholic father Paddy (a perfect performance from Nick Nolte) and brother Brendan (a good performance from Joel Edgerton). Tom returns home to his father to train for an MMA tournament awarding the biggest purse in the history of the sport. Brendan, a school teacher, father and amateur fighter, enters the tournament to make ends meet, despite his wife’s discontent with the sport. Brendan overcomes all adversity in the tournament, but is pitted against his bitter, estranged brother Tom.
A brother fighting his own blood is dramatic enough, but writer/director O’Connor gave each character so much depth that it is difficult to choose one side. Hardy plays the mysterious, bad ass fighter full of rage and emotion to perfection, and Edgerton’s performance as a father trying to provide for his family is just as good. But the heart of the film lies in Nolte’s character, a recovering alcoholic and abusive father seeking forgiveness. It is one of the rare roles in which the actor makes the character and vice versa. Nolte’s performance is sure to generate Oscar buzz, which would be a great story of redemption for the actor.
Warrior is not without flaws, but O’Connor provides more than enough to intrigue even those who do not follow MMA (such as myself). With the drama of The Fighter and the heart of Rocky, Warrior is a knockout and one of the best films of the year.