Thursday, 29 September 2011

WARRIOR (2011) - 4 STARS

"Family is worth fighting for"

The early awards contenders have started to emerge over in the States which is slightly frustrating for keen awards buffs in the UK like me, but thankfully I was left amazed by one film which out of nowhere has emerged as one of my contenders for Film of the Year. Yes I love my sport films especially the American ones that revolve around boxing, but there's no doubting that WARRIOR is now up there as one of the best of its genre even if riddled by the typical clichés. UFC has never been a sport I've particularly embraced but after reluctantly deciding to go watch it (on a Sunday!), this knuckle-bashing flick about family feuds and overcoming the odds provides the basis for a raw and explosive picture and continues the popular trend of sporting films that have wowed audiences in previous times including the recent Oscar-winning The Fighter....

Marines soldier Tommy (Tom Hardy) returns home after 14 years fighting in Iraq and ends up staying with his estranged (and ex-alcoholic) father Paddy (Nick Nolte). There is clear bitterness from Tommy to his dad from the abuse he suffered years ago which led to him and his mother leaving Paddy to start afresh, but the stresses of the situation eventually led to her death. However Tommy decides that he wants to start fighting down the local gym and get involved with mixed martial-arts and seeks his father's help in training him to compete in a huge money-making tournament called Sparta which pits other fighters against each other. In the meantime, Paddy's other son (and Tommy's brother) Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a hard-working physics teacher with a family of his own, is facing financial ruin and starts doing fights in run-down clubs but ends up being suspended from his school after coming in with bruises. He gains help from a former training buddy Frank Campana (Frank Grillo) who gets him prepared to take part in the tournament, though his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) disapproves of her husband's ambitions to get hurt while making money. Brendan though is determined to prove he can win in order to win the $5 million prize to help his family. Once the tournament takes place, emotions run high when the two brothers come face-to-face with bitterness running through with Paddy also trying to amend with both his boys as the importance of the event threatens to cause further heartache for them but how significant victory could be for whoever wins....

The fighting in the film is almost an after thought and this is certainly miles better than other UFC films which have tried and failed miserably like Never Back Down and Fighting. The fantastic thing here is two protagonists entering the same tournament. It certainly isn't The Fighter when it comes to one brother being trained by the other, no this is BOTH of them competing in the same competition. Each brother has his own respectable reasons for fighting, a fact that is sure to divide the audience when it comes time to choose which one to root for. The story truly is gut-wrenchingly powerful and through the film's dialogue, we are given a look back into the past hardships of the Conlon family, and the characters' motivations for retaining such hatred are revealed gradually particularly in one key scene before the tournament where the two brothers come together for the first time in years on the beach. The actual fights themselves are well balanced within the narrative, excellently shot and masterfully edited with clever sound effects of bone-crunching and thumping take-downs giving plenty of audiences something to wince at. It makes the fight scenes in the Rocky films look like a play fight to that extent! As you expect from some of these sport films, the acting does do its job impeccably with the two co-leads providing raw emotion as the two brothers both trying to do good for others by achieving the improbable task of winning this tournament. British actor Hardy continues to vary his roles and puts in a bruising performance capturing the quiet intensity followed by vicious rage in the ring. With those muscles looking huge, Hardy is surely readying himself for his next big film role; Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012). Edgerton (recognisable as the young Uncle Owen from the Star Wars prequels) also adds strong emotion to his role and proves his underrated potential in such a towering film. But it is Nick Nolte who earns the most plaudits from this critic, with a powerful role as the estranged ex-alcoholic father (almost playing himself from his hell-raising days) whose loathsome characteristic bubbles away beneath the exterior of a man who has suffered pain through being disowned by his own sons and is wrapped in a world of self-hatred and self-pity, trying to make amends.

What is a little too obvious with these type of sports films is the cliché that we have seen from in that genre with the factor of going the distance and it is mostly the situation with Edgerton's character which becomes too obvious; He doesn't want to fight but he has to do it for the money, his wife doesn't want him to fight (Morrison playing the Adrian Balboa/Mae Braddock role here) and there is tension in their relationship. Plus with The Fighter having been out several months ago, there will be some audiences that will probably expect just the same with Warrior hence why its box-office has been a little disappointing. And as said with most films seen this year, the ending whilst emotionally bonding for the two brothers, leaves little to be desired for the viewer as not much is given out regarding the fates of the main three characters, though it is left to us to make our mind up about what could happen to them.

VERDICT: UFC is now the latest sport to make the successful adaptation to the big screen with bruising 'knock-out' performances from Hardy, Edgerton and Nolte mixed in with an emotionally-powerful story of family unity and redemption. You won't know what hit you!


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