Stop me if you've heard this One before: Two brothers, One a child prodigy with hugely self-destructive tendencies, the other more subdued, and almost always regulated to underdog status. The Two both compete in a sporting event of One sort or another, as rock songs and familial bonding add drama and life lessons to the dynamic. This description perfectly befits Warrior, Director Gavin O'Conner's take on Mixed Martial Arts, and modern American unrest, but it also fits last year's The Fighter like a glove, as well as a litany of other big screen efforts. As The Fighter amply proved, you don't have to reinvent the genre wheel in order to come out with a big winner, but it does put something of a target on your back. If you've already seen Five other movies just like Warrior, why bother?
Subbing in for manic, deranged Christian Bale is tortured, emotionally stunted Tom Hardy, who, as the film opens, returns home from a tour in Iraq to berate his recovering alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). Scenes of him restarting his life are interspersed with ones that check in on big brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a High School Physics teacher who moonlights as an MMA fighter to help pay the increasingly daunting bills. A pill-popping, whisky-swigging war vet, and an everyman on the verge of foreclosure: These are the hard lives of true Americans, and this movie isn't even about to let you forget that, ramming their hardship down your throat from start to finish. At least an hour and a half of the movie's hulking 140 minute runtime is dedicated to these stories, especially that of the damaged bond between Nolte and his sons, stuffing the entirety of the climactic, 16-entrant tournament into the film's final third.
But what fights they are! Those who are repulsed by this seemingly barbaric style of fighting won't find much to enjoy here; The battles are all shot right up close, the sweat and pain pouring out onto the audience. I'm not a big UFC fan (nor am I particularly opposed), but even to me, it's readily apparent that these scenes are the best thing the movie has going for it. Hardy gives One hell of a performance, the unique sense of animal magnetism that made his titular Bronson performance so mesmerizing again in effect here, but the screenplay short-changes him with minimal character development and rampant cliche. Edgerton doesn't fare so well, his body and demeanor seemingly out of place in the violence-filled world of the film from the start. Sure, it's fun to hear Nolte's hardly audible, world-weary rasp, but no amount of yucking for the camera can help Warrior from simply seeming like another movie to add to its genre. It's action scenes are among the very most gripping and intense of the year, and the film confirms, once again, that Hardy has some BIG things coming his way (Bane, anyone?), but everything else here is standard issue.