Warrior is a gritty, no-nonsense drama that sadly flew under the radar during its initial release in September 2011. While most would simply write off a movie about two brothers fighting for a cash prize in an MMA tournament as direct-to-DVD piffle, Warrior pummels any negative expectations by putting on a gut-wrenching thumper of a show.
Tom Hardy, who would later skyrocket into stardom with his mask-clad Bane in last year’s The Dark Knight Rises, grips as the sulking giant Tommy, an AWOL Marine looking to help a fallen friend’s family, while the always reliable Joel Edgerton plays his estranged brother Brendan, a teacher and family man in a financial burden. Tommy resurfaces in his hometown to receive training from his scraggly fireball-of-a-pop Paddy (Nick Nolte), while Brendan seeks the help from an old, gym-owning friend (Frank Grillo).
Director Gavin O’Connor (2004’s sports cheerer Miracle) frames the film in tight confines, never letting the otherwise obvious story branch out into melodrama. Hardy and Edgerton both deliver quality performances (as does the rest of the supporting cast — including the always-great Jennifer Morrison as Brendan’s wife Tess). Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is crisp and grainy, and whoever decided to feature The National’s “About Today” deserves some sort of award — it is chillingly great (you can get a brief snippet above). But the film’s true secret weapon is Nick Nolte.
Nolte’s Paddy is an open wound — a man whose actions earlier in life have all but alienated his two children. Nolte weaves in and out of the narrative with precision, hitting you with a sledgehammer of emotion when it matters. Actually, the universe did itself a solid when Nolte was nominated for Best Supporting Actor back at the 2012 Oscars.
Nolte’s role is enough reason to give this film a go, but even those who enjoy a little cage action will find the film’s MMA-angle satisfying. All in all, Warrior is a rare masterstroke, the kind of movie that hits all the right notes at exactly the right moment. It’s certainly worth full-ticket price, much less the cost of a Netflix account.
There’s not too much out right now in a theater that’s worth a flip anyway, so maybe a stay-at-home night with Warrior could do the trick to cure any summer dog day blues.