Judge David Johnson would like to think he's a warrior, but really he's just a big crybaby. Especially after watching this tour de force.
Fight for family. Fight for country.
On paper, this should be hokey; in reality, Warrior just might be the best film of the year.
Facts of the Case
Two brothers: Tommy (Tom Hardy, Inception) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton, King Arthur), both former MMA fighters, both grappling with major life issues. They're estranged, driven apart since childhood by a broken marriage and an alcoholic father (Nick Nolte, 48 Hrs.). Circumstances have brought the two together, on opposite sides of the ring, fighting in the world's biggest mixed martial arts tournament, where there is more than money at stake. With blows to the head and brutal submission moves, Tommy and Brendan will attempt to purge their demons.
Like a lightning-quick straight punch to the side of the head, Warrior came out of nowhere and made me weep like a little girl. Gavin O'Connor, who previously delivered a top-tier sports movie in Miracle, has crafted a near impossibility: an MMA movie that's good.
Over my tenure at Verdict, I've been exposed to loads of Tapout and mixed martial arts films and they've all been dumpster-dwellers. The plots were terrible, but I was disappointed the most with the tedium of the fight scenes. This was supposed to be like real life Bloodsport, right?! So why is it so boring?!
Warrior is stocked with nine individual fight sequences and they are absolutely thrilling. O'Connor achieved this by squeezing as much brutality out of the encounters as he could, opting for raw and real pugilism, and it worked. I haven't been this engaged in a movie since the original Rocky.
Though if I were to be honest with myself, the reason these bouts contain such power is the underlying sentiment. The battles aren't isolated action scenes, but rather culminations of wrenching, hard-core emotional roller-coaster rides. It's actually sort of brilliant how O'Connor has injected these fights with stakes: they become genuine therapy for the brothers and it's evident that's how Hardy and Edgerton were directed; their brutality is, in fact, a spiritual cleanse. (By the way, Nick Nolte turns in one of the best performances I've seen from anyone in quite a long time; an Oscar snub would be unconscionable.)
Warrior is far from pretentious. The themes are quite simple: Redemption, Forgiveness, Healing. They're merely implemented with vicious blows to the head. And the fact that this is all happening between two brothers, with their damaged father as the fulcrum, makes it even more of an effective drama. So effective that I am willing to proclaim Warrior as the current king of Guy Chick Flicks; a movie that gets grown men audibly blubbering and craning their heads away from their spouses so as to obstruct the tears rolling down their cheeks. I would have put Field of Dreams or Hoosiers (or Rudy, if that's your bag) up there vying for supremacy, but Warrior is far better than all of those. I don't care how tough you think you are, this movie will bring you to your knees.
Lionsgate has delivered a Blu-ray that just may get my vote as best release of the year. It's not clad in sexy, complex packaging or stuffed with gimmicky extras; instead you get am absolutely perfect 2.40:1/1080p visual transfer and the rare, but deeply appreciated 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, both of which serve up best in class technical performances. A perfect score for the bonus content as well. Extras have long been the forgotten perk in Blu-ray-land, but the producers of this disc ensure the technology is used to max effect. The highlight is "Full Contact," an enhanced viewing mode featuring O'Connor and various guests discussing what's transpiring in the film in real time, supplemented with candid footage and behind-the-scenes stills. The set is filled out with three HD featurettes, the 30-minute "Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life" documentary, "Philosophy in Combat," a look at the MMA choreography, and "Simply Believe," a tribute to Tapout founder Charles Lewis, Jr. Lastly: DVD copy, Digital copy, a gag reel, a deleted scene with optional commentary, a pre-vis look at the end fight, and a very good feature commentary.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One complaint: Warrior could have lost some weight in the runtime.
Don't let your trepidation of MMA or belief this just another corny sports movie deter you: Warrior is one of the most satisfying movies you'll see this year. Excellent Blu-ray, too.
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