Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Best Thing About 'Warrior' (Besides Tom Hardy!)

There are a lot of things that I loved about Warrior, which I popped into the DVD player last night with no small amount of trepidation. It's a film about mixed martial arts, for God's sake. I knew I was in for more than a few rounds of extreme violence.

And then there was the sports angle. As I said in my previous post, sports movies generally just don't do it for me. I have a hard time getting involved unless there is compelling human drama anchoring the sports drama.

Both The Wrestler and The Fighter had plenty of compelling human drama, and I still didn't love them as much as everyone else did. In the end, I think Warrior's perfect storm of family conflict -- son vs. father, brother vs. brother, son/father/brother vs. himself, three battles I can fully relate to, having waged them in my own life -- helped make it a true rarity: a sports-themed movie that held my attention for the entire two-hour-plus running time. I swear, when the final punch was finally thrown, I was ready to check online to see where I could find the nearest mixed martial arts tournament. One more for the bucket list!

Tom Hardy was certainly Warrior's MVP. (I know I'm using a metaphor from the wrong sport, but bear with me.) Although Joel Edgerton's Brendan, older brother to Hardy's Tommy, was the more sympathetic character, when I found myself rooting for him, it was mostly because he had the most to lose. Tommy ended up in that ring by accident; Brendan out of desperation -- he needed to keep a roof over his family's collective head.

But as much as I found myself caring about what happened to Brendan, I couldn't take my eyes off of Tommy. Hardy's performance was a marvel of physical bravado. I could spend hours just watching him flex and strut and staring down the enemy. I'd never thought much about him as an actor before, but after watching Warrior, I'm excited to see his next film, This Means War. That one's got Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine ahead of him in the credits, but after watching Warrior, Hardy is the one I'll be going to see.

Nick Nolte, as the abusive-alcoholic-dad-turned-born-again-Christian, was equally impressive, and he's collecting deserved Oscar buzz. Has Nolte really become so old and broken down over the last decade, or was that just part of the performance? As I watched, I couldn't help but think of James Coburn's similar, Oscar-winning turn as Nolte's dad in Affliction, the 1997 film for which Nolte received his last invitation to the Academy Awards as a nominee. I don't expect Nolte to be as lucky as Coburn was, not with Drive's Albert Brooks and Beginners' Christopher Plummer in the running, but it's nice that the Best Supporting Actor race, for once, is shaping up to be nearly as interesting as Best Actor.

As impressive as Hardy and Nolte were, the song that was playing during the film's closing sequence -- "About Today" by the National, a track from the band's 2004 Cherry Tree EP -- left an equally indelible imprint. It struck the perfect elegiac counterpoint tone to the loud, violent sequences that preceded it, as brother faced brother in the mixed martial arts ring. Halfway through the climactic fight, it no longer mattered to me who won or lost (okay, I was still kind of rooting for Brendan). What mattered most was that two estranged brothers finally mend their fractured relationship while pummeling each other to near-death.

When it was all over, it wasn't Brendan nor Tommy but the National that delivered the knockout punch.

1 comment:

Sally said...

Your review is one of the few I've seen that definitely got the heart of the movie. And the National moment during the final fight? Perfection. It's beautiful, and unappreciated, and just completely perfect.