The art of a good sports movie is easier said that done, and as of yet there hasn’t been a great one revolving around the sport of mixed martial arts.
The newest effort to make that try is the Lionsgate film ‘Warrior’, which opens nationwide on Sept 9, and it comes as close as any film has yet.
Gavin O’Connor (Pride & Glory) wrote and directed the film, which stars Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises), Joel Edgerton (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith), Jennifer Morrison (House) and Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Nick Nolte (The Prince of Tides).
The concept of ‘Warrior’ is really about a family torn apart years ago that never gets rebuilt, a broken father who scarred his children through a constant addiction to alcohol and two brothers where were the shattered pieces of this cracked and splintered home.
Edgerton plays Brendan, a former UFC fighter who now makes his living as a school teacher, while trying to make ends meet for his family. Meanwhile, Hardy portrays his brother Tommy, a former wrestling prodigy and Marine that comes home from war with more baggage than just a thousand yard stare.
The script and dialogue for ‘Warrior’ are really where O’Connor shines in this film. The characters deliver crisp and meaningful lines that are believable and truthful, yet painful when developing the storyline. Each of the major characters come to life with a narrative that will either make you love or hate each of them along the way, and sometimes it’s both.
The backdrop of the movie is really where the sport of MMA comes to life as a mega tournament dubbed ‘Sparta’ is set to take place where 8 of the best middleweights will travel to New Jersey for a two night affair, with the winner taking home $5 million dollars.
Familiar faces to the MMA world pop up early and often in the film with ESPN and MMA Live anchor Jon Anik, UFC fighters Rashad Evans and Yves Edwards, former title contender Nate Marquardt as well at TapouT founders Punkass and Skrape making appearances to give the film validity when it comes to the sport in which they bring to life on the big screen.
Hardy & Edgerton (photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
It’s in that effort that the movie suffers in many ways however. The constant injection of MMA personalities almost serves as a distraction instead of enhancing the film. Looking at a classic movie like ‘Rocky’ around the boxing world and Sylvester Stallone and his cast didn’t need to bring in Muhammed Ali or other pugilists to give the story some sort of validation.
Sharp writing and phenomenal acting were the only things ‘Rocky’ needed, and while ‘Warror’ delivers on many levels in both those categories, the smattering of MMA stars in the film just seem like they are there for effect.
MMA fans are extremely passionate about the sport, so of course there are certain liberties taken in ‘Warrior’ that some of the hardcore audience will jump all over, but when examining other classic sports films like ‘Raging Bull’ or ‘Bull Durham’, writers and directors in Hollywood have been doing that for decades. A lot can be said for dramatic expansion in any film, and ‘Warrior’ is no different.
The acting in ‘Warrior’ really is another standout feature about the film. Hardy’s dark and disturbed routine as a former Marine returning home for the first time in years is believable and still shakes you to the core when his cold eyes glaze over with an icy stare. Edgerton is plausible as the good brother who has to do bad things like fighting in a cage when he’s got a family at home that depends on him.
Of course, Nick Nolte probably steals the most scenes with his role as ‘Paddy’, father to both Tommy and Brendan, but his experience shines but doesn’t overshadow his co-stars performance.
If there is another downside of ‘Warrior’ it’s minor details revolving around the specifics in the MMA world they cover, but still much closer to reality that past attempts like ‘Red Belt’ or ‘Never Back Down’. Characters are routinely stating things like ‘you could die in the cage’, which for MMA loyalists is like a red flag for unknowledgeable goofs that don’t truly understand the sport. In reality however, it’s no different than any film that takes the drama up a few notches to amp up emotion in a movie.
Overall, ‘Warrior’ delivers a very solid story and compelling characters that you can grow to care about by the end of the over 2 hour long movie. There are missteps along the way, and a few stumbles that with editing could probably be fixed by the time the film hits theaters, but as a whole ‘Warrior’ will hopefully capture MMA and movie fans alike.
In conjunction with the upcoming release of “Warrior,” Lionsgate is also doing doing a “We Are All Warriors” program where you can go to their website and nominate someone that you consider an everyday warrior: someone that fights for something they believe in. “We Are All Warriors” provides fans a platform to share their stories and their fight with the world at large. Everyone who submits a story is entered to win a free hometown screening of Lionsgate’s “Warrior.”
Damon Martin is the lead staff writer and radio host for MMAWeekly.com.
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