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WARRIOR (2011)

It wasn’t until yesterday that I began doing what I needed to do in order to fulfill the objective of this blog.  I went out the the cinema and saw a new release.  If you somehow managed to begin reading this article without looking at the title, the film I saw was Warrior

Now, before I begin my critique, I feel the need to mention a few things.  Most notably, I’m not really a fan of fighting.  I don’t watch WWE, UFC, professional boxing, or anything of the sort.  I’ve just never found it particularly interesting to see men harm each other for sport.  And, when I look at them as I look at NFL or MLB professional athletes, I think it an odd, if not disappointing choice of career.  However, much like 2010’s The Fighter, I adored this film. 

THE GOOD

First and foremost, I absolutely love the story of this film.  Fighting, while a major component of the film, is really just the vehicle by which the rest of the story is told.  More than fighting, we see characters developing in order to fight.  Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy spend less time on screen throwing punches and considerably more time conversing with their families, fleshing out their pasts, and building an observable rapport with the other characters in the film.  Where this story truly shows itself is in the family dynamic.  Hardy and Edgerton are estranged brothers, who are both estranged from their father, Nolte.  And, throughout the film, there’s no absolute moment of resolution.  Instead, Hardy grows minutely closer to (or simply less likely to throw a punch at) his father when Nolte hits his lowest point.  Edgerton "forgives" his father for ignoring him throughout his childhood, but still doesn’t actively engage him.  The dynamic between Edgerton and Hardy is more interesting and the actual meat of the film.  While they spend little time together on screen, you know throughout the film that their encounter is inevitable.  Then, upon meeting, you discover that Hardy resents Edgerton.  And, when they’re in the cage, Hardy holds nothing back. 

So, trying to not spoil this film too badly, I think I should move onto the characters.  While I’ve already summarized them above, their characters are so important to the quality of this film that I need to describe them in detail. 

First, and I am playing favorites here, is Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton).  In the beginning, we’re presented with a family man celebrating his daughter’s birthday.  Obviously an attentive father and husband, we recognize him to be a "good" character.  When he goes to work, as a high school physics teacher, we observe his classroom dynamic.  He’s well liked by his students for being entertaining and down-to-earth, which only reinforces our sympathy for him.  His good fortune goes south however, as his house is scheduled to be foreclosed upon and, in an attempt to earn some extra money by joining an MMA fight, he’s suspended from his job.  Ergo, we’re left with a good man struggling to provide for his family.

Our other main character, Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), exists as a stark contrast to his pure brother.  Tommy is the dark horse, an outrageously evident antihero whose amassment of issues seems almost ridiculous at first.  With the down jackets, watchman’s cap, and paper-bagged bottle of alcohol, he’s the stereotypical vagrant.  Luckily, he sheds the comical vagrant look to detail his background.  First a professional young wrestler with great aspirations, he eventually left his raging alcoholic father with his dying mother.  When she passed, he joined the marines.  Upon having his closest brother-in-arms killed by friendly fire, he goes AWOL, but doesn’t manage to escape the warzone before saving the lives of a few fellow marines.  Now on the run from military police, attempting to provide some sort of support for his fallen comrade’s family, he reunites with his father (still hating him) to begin training for the MMA world championship, Sparta.

Beyond Hardy and Edgerton, we have Nolte and a large supporting cast.  Nolte’s character, Paddy Conlon, is a regretful father.  Attempting to repair his long broken relationships with his two estranged sons, most of the scenes show him sad, making poor attempts to grow closer to his boys, but then being rejected in all of his advances.  His character lacks any real catharsis (a recurring theme in this film), but we find one warming moment when Hardy calms him down after he’s begun drinking again.  This moment comes in great contrast to his previous attempts, as we see that Hardy retains some amount of sympathy for his depressed father.

Now that I’ve essentially explained all that you need to know about the characters that affect the ending.  I can attempt to describe why I feel that this is the greatest film of 2011.  This film, while being an exciting action/fight film, is a much better drama film.  While we have the Rocky reference when Brendon’s wife yells at him for fighting, we have a much more heart wrenching scene in the film’s last ten minutes.  Watching the two brothers fight, one for his family and the other for revenge, and seeing that Edgerton doesn’t want to fight whereas Hardy wants to injure his brother, observing Edgerton’s victory becomes so much more painful.  Needing to prevent his brother from continuing, Edgerton dislocates Hardy’s shoulder.  The doesn’t stop Hardy though, and thus Edgerton is forced to continue through sobs and apologies, to incapacitate his brother.  I can honestly say that this is the first movie to bring me to tears in over a decade.    

THE BAD

While I’m in love with this movie, like any love, it’s not perfect.  There are two main points that I felt were not up to the same quality as the rest of the film. 

The first point is simply a minor qualm I had with characters that are the subject of much dialogue, despite making relatively few appearances.  The daughters, Brendon’s children, take this role.  As a major motivational force for Brendon and virtually every opening line of conversation other characters try to have with him, I was surprised that the daughters did not receive more screen time.

My other point is the ending of this film.  It leaves the audience more saddened than virtually any other ending could have.  While that’s admirable, it also leaves you questioning the fate of Hardy as he’s been discovered by the military police as an AWOL soldier but you never actually see him being taken into custody.

THE UGLY

I truly adore this film and therefore I only have one major point for this category.  My greatest upset with this film was Hardy’s first appearances.  His physical appearance and actions in the first few minutes made it very hard to sympathize for his character.  From the negative costume choice to the pill popping to his upset demeanor at every turn, it takes a considerable amount of time and flashbacks for the audience to recognize that he’s more than just a black sheep, he’s a person whose goals and aspirations are of some merit.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I absolutely believe that this is the best film of 2011.  While I’ve a special penchant for father-and-son films, my heartstrings are even more easily pulled by brother films.  So I have a small bias for this film.  Still, whereas I thought The Fighter was a great film, Warrior takes a great film and makes an excellent film.

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