Warrior

Emotionally intense, but narratively flawed and dramatically disappointing, Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior” is trying to do too much to little effect in combining a familiar family melodrama with a conventional sports saga.

Though meant to be touching and inspirational, I find “Warrior” to be movieish in an irritating way, especially the tale’s supposedly rousing climax and the ending, which tries to please.

“Warrior” has the misfortune of being released after two similar (but far superior) sports-family pictures: Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” starring Mickey Rourke, and David O. Russell’s Oscar-winning “The Fighter.”

O’Connor co-wrote the script with Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorman, based on their story, which feels like a blend of different genres, a pastiche of routine characters, brought up to date. 

Thematically, we have seen it before, in different milieus: A broken family, two estranged brothers facing the fight of a lifetime, an alcoholic father whose wish for redemption may be too late to fulfill, a disappointed wife who eventually would ciome around and support her husband.

This is a step down for helmer O’Connor, who previously had directed “Miracle” and “Pride and Glory,” which were commercially popular films, though neither really good artistically.

We are first introduced to Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), a Marine who returns home for the first time in fourteen years to enlist the help of his father (Nick Nolte) to train for Sparta, the biggest winner-takes-all event in mixed martial arts history.

A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy now aims at claiming the championship.  In a rather schematic way, the saga contrasts him with his brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), an ex-fighter-turned own teacher, who decides to return to the ring in a desperate bid to save his family from financial ruin; he can’t pay the mortgage for the house. 

Much like “Rocky” and other middlebrow sports stories (biopics and otherwise), we observe how against the opposition of his wife and against great odds, Brenan, a classic outsider-underdog, begins to rise, going through all the predictable motions og training, slow progress, doubts, and eventually triumph.

We learn that when Tommy and his mother escaped his abusive father Paddy, his brother Brendan stayed behind to be close to his high school girlfriend Tess (Jennifer Morrison), to whom he is now married.  Though Paddy and Tommy have made a truce in order to train together, there’s no communication between the brothers when they both decide to participate in the nationally televised Sparta tournament.

Clearly, the film builds toward a collision between Brendan and the presumably unstoppable Tommy. Quite predictably, the film contains confrontations and reconciliations between father and each of hi sons and then brother and their father.

In the end, we sigh with relief as the two brothers finally confront each other head-on, on and off the ring, which gives them an opportunity to air out family problems and misunderstandings, forces that had pulled them apart.

The climax, which takes a whole reel, is meant to be emotionally soaring and soul stirring, but I found it cliché-ridden and overlong, milking out every emotion by its manipulative visual style and editing, which go out of their way to make sure that we get reaction shots of the significant players to each and every gesture that the brothers make. 

A longer review will appear shortly.

 

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