“Warrior” Blu-Ray Review
– for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: September 9, 2011
Blu-Ray Release Date: December 20, 2011 (Amazon.com)
Two brothers face the fight of a lifetime – and the wreckage of their broken family – within the brutal, high-stakes world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting in Lionsgate’s action/drama, Warrior.
An ex-Marine haunted by a tragic past, Tommy Riordan returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh and enlists his father, a recovered alcoholic and his former coach, to train him for an MMA tournament awarding the biggest purse in the history of the sport. As Tommy blazes a violent path towards the title prize, his brother, Brendan, a former MMA fighter unable to make ends meet as a public school teacher, returns to the amateur ring to provide for his family. Even though years have passed, recriminations and past betrayals keep Brendan bitterly estranged from both Tommy and his father.
But when Brendan’s unlikely rise as an underdog sets him on a collision course with Tommy, the two brothers must finally confront the forces that tore them apart, all the while waging the most intense, winner-takes-all battle of their lives… (from MovieWeb.com)
As an avid fan of watching movies, sports films aren’t really the genre I tend to gravitate to. However, every once in a great while, a film comes along that goes beyond its genre. Warrior, the latest feature film from director Gavin O’Connor (who also directed the hockey film Miracle) is just as much a drama about the complicated family relationships of the story’s main characters as it is about Mixed Martial Arts fighting. In the movie, a young man named Tommy returns home to see his estranged father after fourteen years and asks him to help him train for an MMA tournament. Their relationship is super complicated, however, as we soon learn that his father, Paddy, is a recovering alcoholic who is celebrating a thousand days of sobriety, but is having to face the demons of his past in reuniting with his son. Tommy holds in an incredible amount of bitterness and resentment towards Paddy, as well as a mystery as to what kind of man he himself has become since last seeing his father. The story then shifts to his older brother Brendan who is married with two kids and is also estranged from his father and brother and is currently working full-time as a physics teacher. When his family is hit with some serious financial strain, Brendan turns to MMA fighting to help pay the bills and decides to go for the gold by entering into the “Superbowl of MMA,” Sparta. This dramatic story drives the MMA sports elements forward, making it far deeper than your typical sports film.
The casting and script is what really makes Warrior rise above similar genre films. Tom Hardy has proven with just a few roles that he’s a solid and versatile actor. I first saw him in the highly imperfect but still underrated Star Trek: Nemesis and then a decade later in last year’s masterpiece, Inception. Now Hardy is set to appear as the chief villain in next year’s highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises and he turns in a fantastically well-rounded performance in Warrior. Tommy is a likable guy who wears a pretty tough exterior to hide the pain he’s constantly dealing with inside. He’s a loner because he didn’t have the support of his family and has learned to get by on his own. On the other hand, the much lesser-known Joel Edgerton (who I’ve only seen in his minor role as Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels) proves to be a strong casting choice as Tommy’s older brother: a family man, having chosen to start his own functional family to help cope with the broken home in which he was raised. Edgerton has a tough role to fill as a guy who can pass as a father to two little daughters, a physics teacher, and still be able to take on–and take down–some of the toughest fighters in MMA today. To round out the central cast is a marvelous Nick Nolte as Paddy, who brings an incredible amount of depth and emotion to his role of a father just trying to make things right with his sons. He doesn’t have much left and he has to constantly be reminded of his past failures as he tries to move beyond the sins he’s committed. Because we never truly see the kind of man he was to his wife and kids, it’s much easier to be sympathetic to an aging father who is constantly being rejected by his kids who have had to carry around the scars of their childhood for years. But witnessing the hurt these boys are still coping with makes it just as easy to understand why these guys aren’t quite so quick to accept their father back into their lives.
Warrior is a movie that runs deep with the theme of forgiveness and redemption. The past of these men is truly complicated and O’Connor slowly reveals the mystery of each one as the story progresses. The film’s opening, when we first meet Tommy and Paddy, reveals that Paddy has turned to a relationship with Christ that has helped him overcome alcoholism and deal with the guilt of where he went wrong with his kids and wife. Unfortunately, Tommy holds incredible bitterness not only towards his father and brother but also at God for not helping his mother who suffered through her relationship with Paddy and a terminal illness. The spirituality addressed in these opening scenes is never talked about again, but the changes in Paddy’s life as a result of becoming sober and finding God are evident (even though he never actually speaks of his faith beyond what Tommy observes and addresses in the first scenes). Still, forgiveness, love, family and redemption are all worthwhile themes that run throughout the movie.
The action sequences during all of the MMA fights are pretty brutal (but hey, that’s the nature of the sport), but are well represented by the filmmakers here. After watching the bonus features on the Blu-Ray disc, it’s more than obvious that this film was a labor of love for all those involved. O’Connor fully immersed himself in the world and community of Mixed Martial Arts and enlisted the help of as many experts in the sport as possible to make the movie as true to life as it can be. Admittedly, I knew nothing of the sport going into watching Warrior and it was really intriguing to be introduced to this world and learn about it through the eyes of this family and how they used it to deal with issues that were gripping them. However, it’s a very brutal sport, one that mixes wrestling with boxing and street fighting. Still, it made for some pretty gripping action scenes.
The content for Warrior most certainly isn’t fluffy. While the MPAA rating lists “some language,” there’s actually a decent serving of it in this movie. There’s one spoken “F” word and one mouthed “F” word, both from Tommy in one really emotional confrontation between him and his father. There may also be some muffled uses of the “F” word in a rap song playing in the background at a gym, but it’s tough to make out for sure (and didn’t show up in the film’s subtitles). There is some drinking in the movie, but it’s mostly talked about in retrospect than seen, but there is one powerful scene where we Tommy discovers his father completely drunk in a hotel room. Thematically, it’s a heavy film, and a sometimes dark film, but there is enough hope and redemption to make it a worthwhile journey to experience with these characters. The violence is mostly kept to in-the-ring fighting, but they’re pretty rough fights, beyond what you’d typically see in a sport like boxing.
Overall, Warrior is a surprise. It’s a gripping drama with excellent sports action and acting that really takes the story to a deep place. It’s certainly not a movie for everyone, and it’s often very serious and dark as it deals with a dysfunctional family trying to come to grips with a pretty rocky past, but the journey has a resolution worth the trek. The profanity was unnecessary, but probably would have been considerably more if kept to an even more realistic approach. It’s an otherwise great script and I’m glad the writers didn’t resort to just one profane-filled line after another to get the story told. Fans of MMA should be pleased with Warrior (even if where the story goes may seem a little too contrived), while anyone looking for a good underdog sports story should also enjoy this one.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/17/11)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Warrior is available on DVD and as a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. The HD presentation is crisp, but the dark cinematography, which works perfectly with the mood of the film, tends to make some of the footage look a little grainy. It does add to the grit of the film, but the HD will probably make the grain more obvious. Still, the picture is crisp and vibrant in color and is still a great way to watch the movie. Also, the bonus features are really in-depth and revealing, which make this the best viewing option for Warrior…
Full Contact: Feature Length Enhanced Viewing Mode (2:19:54) is a visual commentary for the film that first shows Nick Nolte and director Gavin O’Connor sitting in an MMA cage while watching the movie and talking about it. They intercut some B-roll footage and on-set photos along with the interviews. As the film progresses, Gavin brings in different guests, including his co-screenwriter, the stunt coordinator, members of the sound department, and a couple other guests. Everyone Gavin brings in talks quite thoroughly about working together, preparing for the film, and even share some stories from during production and pre-production. It’s a cool commentary option because it’s more than just audio, it’s visual, and it brings in more viewpoints on production than just a couple points of view that thread through the whole movie like most audio commentaries. The only thing missing from these commentaries are major cast interviews outside of just Nick Nolte. Joel, Tom, and Jennifer don’t make any appearance here. (There is some language from those being interviewed, but thankfully it’s not constant)
Redemption: Bringing Warrior To Life Documentary (31:57) is a half-hour documentary about how the film came to be and what it meant to the filmmakers. Director Gavin O’Connor takes the reins here and discusses the casting process, the deeper themes of the movie, and what inspired the tense relationships of the Conlons. After going through casting the core of the film’s players, we see lots of footage of Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton physically training for their roles as Tommy and Brendan. Mixed in with that are talking head interviews with the cast and crew. They also talk about how real MMA fighters were brought in to fight with the actors in the cage fights, and how difficult it was to “act” with guys trained to fight in those realistic fight settings. Tom reveals that he and Joel suffered some serious injuries, including broken ribs, torn ligements and a broken foot for him. It’s a thorough and in-depth look at the film and a great documentary. There is a little bit of language included, including one “F” word from one of the guest interviewees, but I suppose it could have been worse (1 “F” word, 1 “S” word, 2 “a” words, 1 “oh my G-d”).
The Diner: Deleted Scene (3:02) – The single deleted scene shows Paddy and Tommy sitting in a diner as Paddy is trying to get Tommy to talk. He won’t, so he shares a story from Vietnam.
Cheap Shots: Gag Reel (3:58) – There are a few silly moments from the set where the cast and crew were just goofing around or pranking each other. Unfortunately, no profanity was bleeped out, so a couple “F” words are audible (2 “F” word, 1 “a” word, 1 “oh my G-d”).
Brother Vs. Brother: Anatomy of the Fight (11:55) takes a look at how the final showdown was created. We see the finished film in the lower right-hand corner of the screen and pre-viz storyboards and test footage in the upper lefthand corner. It’s neat to see how the film went through its initial evolution for that scene.
Philosophy In Combat: Mixed Martial Arts Strategy (21:07) shows how world-renowned MMA trainer Greg Jackson reunited, in August of this year, with actor Frank Grillo to discuss MMA and filming Warrior. For most of the featurette, it’s just Frank and Greg talking about working together, training, and the philosophy and styles of MMA. By the end of the featurette, it’s just Greg in the ring with one of his students as he talks in-depth about fighting, and even demonstrates some moves.
Simply Believe: A Tribute To Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr. (13:58) – Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr. was an “invaluable” asset to helping the director put together this film, but he passed away before filming began on Warrior. We see lots of photos and behind-the-scenes footage of Charles, who was a co-founder of “Tapout” and had helped Gavin get into the MMA community. They include some footage of Gavin speaking at Charles’ memorial. It’s an emotional and even inspiring tribute to their friend who they lost when his car was run off the road one evening (According to Wikipedia, he was taking part in a street race and most likely had been drinking, which was not mentioned in the tribute video). (There is 1 “F” word from the Warrior co-screenwriter, 1 “a” word)
The special features for Warrior are pretty extensive and are a nice bonus for fans of the film and those interested in learning about filmmaking. The fact that they were pretty lax on the use of profanity in the extras was unfortunate (albeit, it’s not nearly as bad as last year’s The A-Team movie Blu-Ray release, which was simply gratuitous), so just be warned that the extras push the limits of the rating in that sense a little bit and the filmmakers seem to have something against the use of the more friendly “bleep” button.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/17/11)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Brendan talks to his wife about his after-school job where he may see some action. She then playfully suggest that maybe she can help with that; We see a neon sign of a strip club that shows a female dancer on a pole and reads “The Tender Trap;” We see Tess in her panties and a tank top when she gets out of bed to talk to Brendan; Some students talk about Brendan’s match he fought in at the strip club parking lot; One kid asks Brendan if he was “at the t*tty bar;” A guy makes a comment about some girls at a fight being the kind “you wouldn’t bang on a dare.”
Vulgarity/Language: It’s possible a song in the background at a gym has some “F” words in it; As far as spoken profanity, there is at least 1 clearly audible “F” word (and 1 mouthed “F” word), 3 “J-sus,” 2 “g*dd*mn,” 13 “S” words, 3 “S.O.B,” 2 “a” words, 7 “h*ll,” 3 “d*mn,” 12 “G-d,” 1 “cr*p,” 1 “for Chr-st’s sake,” 1 “t*tty,” 2 “b*lls,” 5 “b*stards”
Alcohol/Drugs: We see Tommy take some pills; Tommy tries to give his dad a beer, but he rejects it. Tommy then has some; Paddy makes Tommy hand over his pills, and Tommy gives up three bottles; We see a man deliriously drunk while shouting and holding a bottle of alcohol with other empty ones on the floor.
Blood/Gore: Brendan has a black eye and a bloody cut on his cheek after a match; Brendan has some dried bloody cuts under his eyes; Brendan has more bloody cuts and bruises on his face during a match; The side of Tommy’s face is bloody on one side after a fight
Violence: Tommy talks to his dad about the abuse his dad dished out to his mom in the past while drunk; As part of a physics class assignment, a kid hits a piece of wood with a bat; We see some guys fighting in a ring while Tommy punches a bag; Tommy fights a guy in the ring and knocks him out; Brendan has a fighting match in a ring; We see a YouTube video of Tommy’s fight. A soldier then pulls up night vision footage from the front that shows some gunfire; Frank jokingly throws a ball at Brendan; We see a montage of scenes with Tommy and Brendan separately training; After training, we see one of the fighters on the ground nursing an injured leg; A fighter knocks out his opponent with one punch; Brendan fights a brutal match; Tommy angrily throws some casino coins in his dad’s face; We see Koba beat some other fighters senseless; We briefly see another fight of Brendan’s; Tommy beats the snot out of another fighter; Tommy pounces on a fighter in the ring, knocks him out and keeps swinging and pounding him after the knockout; Brendan takes a tremendous, brutal beating during another fight; We see another brutal, multi-round fight where one person’s shoulder is dislocated, but he keeps on fighting anyway.