Dir. Gavin O’Connor
(2011, PG-13, 140 min)
Surprisingly, three men share writing credit for Warrior: Cliff Dorfman, Anthony Tambakis, and director Gavin O’Connor. Not a single moment of its 140-minute running time contains original content. It’s constructed exclusively of cliches, and the cliches are so old and threadbare it’s foolish to assemble them this way for any reason but parody. As I watched, I started to keep count. SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW, if you can consider them spoilers. Can you spoil a rerun?
#1 – Brother vs. Brother. Siblings Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy) have been estranged ever since Tommy and his mother left their abusive father and Brendan stayed behind. They blame each other, for various reasons that will be settled in the ring during an epic mixed martial arts tournament. Called Sparta, the tournament is established by an unimportant character for unimportant reasons; sixteen of the top fighters from around the world are chosen to compete, which made me wonder how Brendan, a former middle-of-the-pack UFC competitor who now teaches high school physics, and Tommy, an AWOL military hero, are selected among the best in the world. How are we to believe that they could become legitimate contenders so quickly? Simple …
#2 – We’re gonna need a montage! Brendan and Tommy, both rusty after much time out of the ring, must get back in shape for the main event, which they do during a minute or two of cross-cutting and split-screen footage of jogging, sparring, and working out. And how do we know, by the end of it, that Brendan is ready to rumble? Because of the clip where he runs up a hill just a little bit faster than his training partner, who happens to be training for, you guessed it, Sparta! Team America put it best: “Show a lot of things happening at once / Remind everyone of what’s going on / And with every shot you show a little improvement / To show it all would take to long / That’s called a montage!”#3 – He’s doing it for his family! Brendan is a loving husband and father. The bank is about to foreclose on his house. His youngest daughter had an unspecified heart condition that put the family in debt. And he was suspended from his high school teaching job for taking a fight to pay the bills. The screenplay has given him just the right number of calamities so that, wouldn’t you know, a $5 million MMA purse is just what he needs to get back on his feet. The screenplay has also provided him with …
#4 – A devoted wife who made him promise to stop fighting and refuses to watch him get hurt again. The thankless role is played by Jennifer Morrison. She doesn’t want him to return to a life of getting punched and kicked for a living. He resolves to do it anyway for the sake of the family (see above), but if he does, she warns, he’ll have to do it alone. Take a guess: Does she surprise him by showing up at the big fight just in time to give him the moral support he needs?
#5 – The rogue military hero. Tommy is hailed as a hero for ripping the door off a tank to save drowning soldiers. But he refuses to accept praise and shuns the spotlight. Naturally, there’s a secret, shameful part of his military service he feels he must atone for. And naturally, the shameful past is not nearly shameful enough to override his heroism, but provides him with heroic guilt so that the audience may root for his redemption.
#6 – The abusive, alcoholic father struggling to make amends. Brendan and Tommy were scarred as children by their dad, Paddy (Nick Nolte), but he has been clean and sober for a thousand days and wants nothing more than to make amends for his past mistakes, if only his sons would let him. Paddy allows the screenplay to fill three cliches for the price of one, for he also provides …
#7 – The grizzled old trainer and #8 – The reluctant dad who shows up in the middle of the final match/dance recital/musical solo just in time to support his child’s dreams.
#9 – The unbeatable Russian opponent. Oddly, Warrior revives this dusty relic of Cold War movie-making in the form of Koba (Kurt Angle), who has never set foot in the United States – until now! He scowls through scenes without speaking (perhaps to avoid the American Angle doing a silly Russian accent), and if the Iron Curtain were still up he might be very intimidating. During his match with one of the brothers – you already know who wins, because the brothers must inevitably meet in the finals (#10) – a pair of irritating color-commentators talk of a “miracle” underway; O’Connor previously directed 2004’s Miracle, a better film than this, about the 1980 US hockey team that defeated the dreaded Soviets, so in this case at least the director is borrowing from himself.
Warrior received fairly good reviews when it was released last fall, but it underperformed at the box office, perhaps because of how closely it followed 2010’s The Fighter, another make-a-comeback sports movie, which I didn’t think was very good either, but it contains more of interest than this one. Since then there was also Lights Out, a short-lived boxing series on FX with roughly the same subject, but in thirteen episodes it was able to flesh out its cliches, add human dimension to its formula. Warrior, however, never rises above the feeling that it’s all been done before.