“Warrior” film review

HollywoodNews.com: I cannot count how many times I have watched a sports-related drama and thought to myself “How much better would this movie be if the main opponent wasn’t a two-dimensional villain?”. Whether adult-aimed Oscar bait (Cinderella Man) or family-friendly faith-based dramas (Soul Surfer), any number of underdog sports movies have dramatically shot themselves in the foot by feeling the need to make the opponent into a vicious, selfish, and occasionally murderous antagonist who ‘must be taken down’.

There are exceptions (Akeelah and the Bee, Miracle), but the majority of sports films feel the need to pander to the audiences’ baser instincts by not just making the big game about the triumph of our hero, but about the defeat of a genuine villain. Writer/director Gavin O’Conner (who directed the aforementioned Miracle) finds a neat way out of this contrived set-up, and I’m a little shocked that no one thought of it before. Instead of focusing on one underdog who must triumph in an athletic event, Warrior focuses on two would-be athletic opponents, giving them both equally valid reasons to want to succeed and refusing to give either of them the moral advantage. This is just one of a handful of thoughtful choices that O’Conner makes in shaping Warrior into a top-notch entry in its respective genre and an all-around fine character drama.

A token amount of plot: Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) was an abusive alcoholic who wrecked the childhoods of his two sons, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy). Years later, the son who ran away, Tom, returns to his father’s doorstep a shattered shell of a man. The one thing Paddy did well was train his kids to fight in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) arena as younger men. Tommy wants to get back into the game and enlists Paddy to train him.

Meanwhile, high-school physics teacher Brendan is facing foreclosure. Unwilling to give up on the home where he lives with his wife (Jennifer Morrison) and two daughters, he reluctantly gets back into the fighting game. An unwilling family reunion appears in the works when both brothers end up competing in a major MMA tournament that carries a $5 million prize. Can family wounds be mended outside the ring while age-old scars continue to show themselves during competition?

Photo by Lionsgate Films Inc.

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About Scott Mendelson

Mendelson's Memos: The basics - 30 years old, married with one child, currently residing in Woodland Hills, CA. I am simply a longtime film critic and pundit of sorts, especially in the realm of box office. The main content will be film reviews, trailer reviews, essays, and box office analysis and comparison. I also syndicate myself at The Huffington Post and Open Salon. I will update as often as my schedule allows. Yes, I'm on Facebook/Twitter/LinkIn, so feel free to find me there. All comments are appreciated, just be civil and try to keep a level discourse, as I will make every effort to do the same. Read more at Mendelson's Memos:

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