Warrior, a new faith-based action drama by writer-director Gavin O'Connor, has so much working against it. From a contrived storyline, to a 140-minute runtime, to the fact that, well, a fighting movie about two brothers already came out last year, the film seems destined for failure. That said, despite some missteps, the film's strong performances, sharp humor, and big heart—not to mention several compelling action sequences—make it no masterpiece but one of the most surprising movie feats of the year.
The opening scene hints at this potential. Featuring a track by Brooklyn rock band The National and some restrained camerawork, the slow, careful dialogue between a father and son suggests a sincere, character-driven picture that goes beyond typical sports fare. And while the film has its share of sports-movie clichés and entertaining bouts in the ring, it holds up outside the ring too.
Starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte, the story centers on Sparta, a mixed martial arts tournament in Atlantic City, but it's really concerned with the men fighting in it. After disappearing for over a decade, Tommy (Hardy), a cold-hearted marine, shows back up in the life of his father, Paddy (Nolte). Tommy doesn't want to reconcile with Paddy, who destroyed his family with alcohol addiction but has since found God and sobriety. Instead, Tommy needs a trainer, and he makes his intentions clear: He has no need for his father and, thus, no desire to make things better between them.
His brother, Brendan (Edgerton), feels the same way. Though on the outside a well-rounded family man and beloved high school physics teacher, deep down he resents his father. In an early scene where Paddy shows up at his house trying to make things right, Brendan says that he's forgiven his "Pops," but we know it isn't true. His heart reeks of anger and unforgiveness. Even more, Brendan's daddy problems have manifested into financial problems for his family as Brendan looks to fill his void. His banker (Noah Emmerich) tells him that if he doesn't come up with the right amount of cash, his home will be foreclosed in three months. This conundrum leads Brendan, who used to be a UFC fighter before his wife (Jennifer Morrison) made him stop, to get back into it with the hope of saving his house, which too leads him to Sparta.
Predictably, Tommy and Brendan's stories eventually merge as they, unbeknownst to one another and Paddy, meet up at the tournament—on separate sides of the bracket, of course. O'Connor clearly manipulates the plot in an improbable manner, leaving gaping holes in the film. But because of the intense, action-packed finale, visually engaging fights, and well-drawn characters—and stunning performances—it's easy to look past these flaws. Hardy, who looks even more buffed up than he did in the British crime thriller Bronson, doesn't just confirm his ability to embody a believable character. He establishes himself as a superlative actor who knows how to carry a movie. His comical, understated delivery and tough composure invoke the talents of Jason Statham, despite having more warmth than the B-movie bad boy.
Though not quite as distinguished, Edgerton and Nolte bring the same excellence to the screen. After a remarkable performance in last year's Animal Kingdom, Edgerton is just as intriguing here. Flawed and trampled by a desire to live the American dream, his character represents a familiar state of mind—one that seeks riches and comfort and keeps coming up short. And Nolte provides a convincing turn as the anguished and broken Patty. He does the seemingly impossible—with much credit to O'Connor for his precision—by creating a character of faith who actually still feels human. Within Patty's character is a truth: that even though Christ transforms hearts, believers aren't promised new, chipper lives void of pain and suffering, and the transformation isn't always quick or easy. Such an accurate depiction of Christian faith is surely rare in Hollywood and even many faith-based productions.
This approach is what ultimately makes Warrior work. Despite the sentimentality, the heavy emotions feel authentic, not manipulative. We identify with and care about these characters. They don't exist as mere plot devices for selling a cheap message. Plus, as a predictable as the story seems, we have no idea what to expect when it comes down to the gripping finale. O' Connor throws us right in the middle of the ring, heightening the anticipation. But by then, the outcome doesn't matter, because a moving story of forgiveness and redemption comes front and center.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Paddy is depicted as a Christian but an imperfect one who still struggles. Is he a fair representation of a Christian? Why or why not?
- How are Christians often portrayed in "secular" movies? What about faith-based movies? Why is this? How should they be portrayed? Why is it important?
- Despite its themes of faith, family and forgiveness, the backdrop of Warrior is mixed martial arts. Is this violent sport right or wrong? Should Christians watch and partake in it? (Read this article for more insight.)
- Note: Allied Faith & Family has also put together a free Faith Companion Guide on the film.
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Warrior is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material. The last 30 minutes of the film include several violent fights with blood and brutality. In a few heated moments, the main characters use profanity; Paddy once uses the Lord's name in vain. Brendan and his wife, Tess, talk sexually to one another. Tess is also shown in her underwear a few times. In one scene, Paddy gets drunk and behaves irrationally, crying and cussing.
Photos © Lionsgate
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