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Dir: Gavin O'Connor (Pride & Glory)
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo
Reason to see: It's on my list of Most Anticipated Films of 2011 (#8)
Warrior stars Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, The Square) and Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception) as estranged brothers who separately dive into a MMA (mixed martial arts) competition. Both come from previous fighting backgrounds and are not only estranged from each other but also their recovering alcoholic father (played by Nick Nolte). I was completely ready to love Warrior. It was not one, but two of my current favourite actors (Tom Hardy & Joel Edgerton) and it's got mixed martial arts. That's well more than enough for it to be a film I've been looking forward to for over a year, but even with doing my best to avoid trailers and the marketing it felt very clear even before sitting in the theatre where the film was going. I know I'm more sensitive than most on spoilers and there is a certain attitude that sports films tend to sway the same way, but I still felt it was very clear where we are going. If I had connected to one or both of the brothers stories, I think it would have helped. It's not that they aren't compelling or timely, both of them are - I just didn't quite get there with them.
What I did love is the honesty in the family relationships, that they wore their own hurt and that family history lived in different memories of the two brothers and their father. That felt very real to me and I appreciated the emotional journeys of the characters. Switching gears completely, the other thing I loved about the film was the pomp and circumstance of the competition and general MMA-ness, it totally took me back to the days of when I watched wrestling for hours on end with my siblings and most often with my own brother. There is a certain attitude that goes along with that world of sports entertainment that is like no other. Oddly the space that divides those two things of pomposity and family drama is the space where I found the film sat the most, and I wasn't quite with it for that ride. And it was a long ride of 2h20min, and even on that I feel divided - I appreciated the depth of the stories but I just wonder if we needed it all. It also stands apart from many sport films as it doesn't feel like other of the characters are fighting for the joy of the sport or a strive to excellence, but rather for the money and there is an air of desperation and helplessness that's although resonates currently, it's not a comfortable place to be.
I think I need to give it some time and watch it again, because I want to love it and I only liked it. I would have loved to see the fighting itself more clearly as oppose to the fast cuts and often through or with obscurities, but I have a feeling that keeps it authentic with the MMA-verse. It's just the guys are all in such great shape it would have been awesome to really see the action a little clearer as a personal preference (this is addressed in the feature commentary on the DVD). But as a family drama and that speaks to the extraordinary challenges people face, I think it's a win-win.
Warrior (2011) is available on DVD as of December 20, 2011. Check it out over at Amazon.ca. & Amazon.com
- Feature Commentary with co-screenwriter/producer/director Gavin O'Connor, co-screenwriter/co-producer Anthony Tambakis, editor John Gilroy and actor Joel Edgerton; really interesting commentary that has a little bit of everything from bringing the film to life to conversations about how DVD commentaries can give away movie magic, lessons learned about test screenings, how there is a format to films that feel the need to start of with a big action scene, the importance of being invested in character, a lot about the exposition scenes in terms of importance, process and working to getting them right; inspirations for the characters, the training process & learning the choreography, inspiration & decisions on the fighting styles, the casting process including casting Joel Edgerton, what scenes they used for auditions, plus working together & with Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Frank Grillo & Jennifer Morrison, the iconic Pittsburgh notations in the film and the journey of the film as well as fun stuff like counting how infrequently Tom Hardy character smiles.
- Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life Documentary (32 minutes) Absolutely fantastic documentary! It includes film clips, behind-the-scenes, stunt fight pre-visualization, training footage, & interviews with co-screenwriter/producer/director Gavin O'Connor, co-screenwriter/co-producer Anthony Tambakis, editor John Gilroy, stunt coordinator/fight choreographer J.J. Perry, executive producer John J. Kelly actors Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison, Nick Nolte & Frank Grillo on the idea behind the film, the personal connections to the film, the theme of family and change, on the choice of MMA, discussions about the fights, prep work & training the actors as well as training the fighters to fight for camera; the choice of location, the short prep period, the importance and challenging of finding actors who could do not only the physicality but also the emotional range of strength and vulnerability, the actors on their characters & how they came to the film as well as working together (especially working with Nick Nolte); plus working with the talented crew including director of photography Masanobu Takayangi, 1st assistant director/co-producer Jamie Marshall and MMA trailer Greg Jackson. Plus interviews with fighters in the film including Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson, Kurt Angle, Nate 'The Great' Marquardt & UFC referee Josh Rosenthal on the film, input into the fights & the actors.
- Deleted Scene (1 scene, 3 minutes) with optional commentary with co-screenwriter/producer/director Gavin O'Connor, co-screenwriter/co-producer Anthony Tambakis, editor John Gilroy; discussion on why it wasn't included in the film plus how it was first scene shot, on the first take and as discussed in the commentary it received a standing ovation for Nick Nolte's performance.
- Cheap Shots: Gag Reel (4 minutes) Goofs, ad libs, practical jokes and gags.
- Selected Scene on Camera commentary with co-screenwriter/producer/director Gavin O'Connor and Nick Nolte (2 scenes, 8 minutes) This is pretty cool format that I've not seen before, as opposed to use just hearing a commentary it's literally watching them watching scenes of the film (plus stills from prep & behind the scenes) while discussing Nick Nolte's character, history, and his relationships with his sons in the film plus the connection to the film as a whole plus technical notations like blocking
- Brother vs. Brother: Anatomy of the Fight (11 minutes) a side by side comparison of storyboards & live action pre-visualization with to completed film footage for a major fight sequence in the film.
- Philosophy in Combat: Mixed Martial Arts Strategy (21 minutes) great discussion with MMA trainer Greg Jackson & actor Frank Grillo on MMA & their experience with the film including how they got involved, the inspiration & their connection to the film, how the film had changed along the way, the importance of how real they wanted the fighting and culture to feel for MMA fighters & fans, the training & lifestyle of MMA fighters and for the actors, how to approach MMA or any art form when you are just newly discovering it, the characters journeys and fighting styles, the connection of music to movement, plus training footage, rehearsal footage & demonstrations and explanations of various forms of martial arts that play a part in MMA.
- Simply Believe: A tribute to Charles "Mask" Lewis, Jr. (14 minutes) Tribute to Charles "Mask" Lewis, Jr., who was cast in the film, who the film was dedicated to and passed away just before filming; tribute including interviews with director Gavin O'Connor, people from the film and many members of the MMA community including referees, trainers, fighters, fellow Tapout co-founder & members on the impact he had on their lives and the legacy he created.
I wanted to loved it, and on repeat viewings I'm growing more and more on me
I'd watch it again
I'd recommend it to fans of fighting films
Also see: All 2011 Films Reviewed, Most Anticipated Films of 2011 and All Film Reviews
© Shannon Ridler, 2011
Also originally reviewed for Theatrical Release - September 29, 2011
Tess (Jennifer Morrison) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) in WARRIOR. Photo credit Chuck Zlotnick
Tommy (Tom Hardy, left) and Paddy (Nick Nolte, right) in WARRIOR. Photo credit Chuck Zlotnick
Joel Edgerton (left) stars as 'Brendan' in WARRIOR. Photo credit Chuck Zlotnick
Tom Hardy stars as Tommy in WARRIOR, an Alliance Films release. Photo credit Chuck Zlotnick