After watching Warrior, I know, as Oprah would say, two things for sure. First there is nothing I like about a sport that has to be fought in a cage, that begins each round with the cry "go to war" and that seemingly appeals to the very basest of human instincts. (I say human because animals don’t pulverize one another for the sake of entertainment.)
The second is that people can change—repent, in the religious vernacular. But a change of heart doesn’t mean the consequences for past decisions and actions are negated. Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), a reformed drunkard, has found God. However, his family is still lost. The memories of abuse, neglect and inebriated outbursts haven’t vanished from his sons’ minds. And their abrasive reactions to their sober father are understandable though dispiriting. (Aging tough guy Nick Nolte makes this more poignant by capturing the fragility and remorse of an old man who wants to atone for his mistakes but doesn’t know how.)
Yet chokeholds, knockouts and body slams aside, this story has far more depth than the title suggests. This is a tale of damaged goods. Not only bruised cheeks and broken bones but characters so beaten down by life that fighting with their fists seems the only way to redeem themselves. And while we don’t see the internal struggles of every character, we see the human side of several of them. (The biggest exception is Koba, played by Kurt Angle, a famed Russian fighter who is as stereotypical as the Soviet boxer in Rocky IV. All he does is grunt, flex his oversized muscles and pummel his opponent in the head.)
Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a former fighter, is one who hopes to spar for the big prize money in the upcoming world-class competition. He left the ring several years ago to raise two daughters with his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison). Now financial setbacks plague the high school physics teacher. To stretch the household budget, Tess works night shifts as a waitress and Brendan applies for a second job as a bar bouncer. But the $9.00 an hour salary doesn’t do much to cover the huge debts the family incurred over their youngest girl’s heart problems. Neither does it appease their banker (Noah Emmerich) who is drawing up the papers for foreclosure on their home.
Ex-Marine Tom Riordan (Tom Hardy) is in training for the event as well. He comes to the gym with a chip on this shoulder the size of an army tank. He’s glowering, volatile and addicted to prescription drugs that he washes down with alcohol. He also harbors a secret from his past. But all that rage bottled up inside makes him a threatening opponent when he lumbers onto the mat.
Many viewers will come to Warrior for the mixed martial arts scenes, and there are plenty of brutal encounters reminiscent of Roman gladiators who fought to the death. Others will be drawn to the story of wounded lives and fractured families. While it is difficult to recommend a film glorifying actions that would be condemned on the street, Warrior does offer adults and the oldest of teens a sobering look at the aftermath of poor personal decisions.