Warrior Review

How many days would it take to atone for all your past sins?

A thousand, maybe more?

In Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, it’ll take you a lot more than this.

As an old man makes his way home from some weekly worship at his regular church, he recognises a familiar face waiting for him on his doorstep.

The wizened fellow is Paddy Conlon, and the young man before him is his estranged son of 14 years, Tommy.

A man of few words, Tommy knows how to make the most of them as he dishes out some contemptuous verbal barbs to his now repentant old man.

Tommy still burns with anger from the violent treatment his father meted out to his now deceased mother, which was the inspiration behind his prolonged absence.

While Tommy left with his mother, his older brother chose to stay at the family home. Having fallen in love, Brendan Conlon felt he had little choice but to follow his own heart despite his own issues with his paterfamilias.

Having grown up, married his high school sweetheart Tess and started a family of their own, Brendan is feeling the financial pinch of domestic bliss.

His and Tess’ wages don’t cover the bills like they used to. Unless Brendan can come up with some money in three months, the bank will foreclose on their mortgage.

While the choices these two brothers had forced upon them have taken them on vastly different paths, they still have one thing in common; their warrior’s heart.

Their father may not have taught his sons much, but he trained both of them in the art of war. And not just in the amateur environs of their broken family home.

Tommy and Brendan have both left their fighting days behind them, but the chance of one big payday draws them back into the mixed martial arts ring for their own selfless reasons.

And these two brothers, still estranged from each other, get to discover whether love really does tear us apart.

Warrior comes hot on the heels of another recent heavyweight hollywood contender, The Fighter. While they both share similarities in the dual stories of a pair of brothers, and the pain that dysfunctional parents often force onto their offspring, Warrior’s glass chin would appear to be that its story is just that.

While The Fighter was based on real events, Warrior is entirely fictional; and as the clock ticks away in the dying rounds, this difference is hammered home.

The first two thirds of Gavin O’Connor’s latest feature is pretty compelling stuff. We get to discover just why Tommy Conlon, played by the quite marvellous and physically terrifying Tom Hardy, is the way he is.

His fractured relationship with his father, played with no little gravitas by the redoubtable Nick Nolte, is the emotional heart that beats inside of Warrior and represents Tommy’s biggest challenge in or out of the ring.

Joel Edgerton, easily the best thing about the overhyped Animal Kingdom, plays Brendan Conlon with a steely resilience befitting a character who’s learnt to distance himself from his family past.

Brendan’s narrative arc is a little less emotional than his siblings, and rather more prosaic for it. But the main problem with Warrior, as with most films about sporting triumph, is the inevitably scripted climax.

When this is art imitating life, as in The Fighter, it adds conviction and credibility to the manner in which events unfold. When its life imitating art, as we have here, the finale is so predictable that even the viewer in the nosebleed seats can telegraph where Warrior’s cinematic punch is coming from.

Which isn’t to say this is a bad film, far from it. In fact, part of the problem is that most of what goes before the sporting climax of Warrior is so good. With expectations raised, I was hoping for a more original denouement.

It’s also hard not to escape the feeling that the people behind Warrior are trying to cash in on the critical and popular success of The Fighter.

Still, the recurring hollywood theme of redemption is something most of us have to square up to at some point.

And it wouldn’t take much for Gavin O’Connor to atone for Warrior’s minor sins.

Jonathan Campbell

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September 2011
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