When walking away from Warrior, one thing is unbelievably clear; Tom Hardy is a frightening talent. Never appearing to act, Hardy is the heart and soul of the film, his Rocky-esque slur never letting the dialogue own him. Returning home after fourteen years, his Tommy is exceptionally resentful towards his family, but beautifully and subtly caring with others. Hardy’s energy throughout the film is incredibly magnetic, utilising a curious ability to hurt the audience whilst keeping them entirely onside.
Brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is Tommy’s polar opposite, a clean living family man whose money troubles have him returning to the ring. His underdog rise is totally believable, but akin to Bale and Wahlberg in The Fighter, Hardy almost entirely eclipses him. However, this works perfectly within the dynamic of the film, Tommy being the dominant force throughout. The first time we see Brendan, he is dressed up in a bonnet with his face being painted by his daughter. This very clever initial introduction makes his rise to the SPARTA MMA event all the more impressive, morphing from his daughter’s plaything into the epitome of masculinity.
The brothers grew apart due to a childhood spent with an abusive and alcoholic father, Paddy (Nick Nolte). Far removed from the violent man the boys once knew, Paddy is a sober, born-again Christian whose only wish is to have a united family. Not trusted by Brendan or Tommy, the reactions he gets from the boys are heartbreaking. Nolte’s performance is sheer brilliance, a scene he shares with Tommy late in the film nigh on perfect. We never fully grasp what he put his boys through, but he is desperate to amend the situation by training Tommy and going to watch all of Brendan’s matches, even if Tommy feels nothing but hatred towards him and Brendan pretends he doesn’t exist.
Where usual romantic subplots would typically be indulged in, Warrior steers well clear. Brendan and wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) are portrayed as a strong unit and this doesn’t need reaffirming physically – the only physical stuff here takes place in the ring. Where other filmmakers may have included full-blown arguments and makeup sessions, O’Connor’s direction lets us view how an ordinary couple go about handling extraordinary circumstances rationally.
Ultimately, Warrior is about fighting and the time spent within the ring is breathtaking. Bringing in real life fighters such as Kurt Angle to play the opposition during SPARTA adds a real authenticity to the event, with bulked up Hardy and Edgerton never giving us a chance to doubt their ability as hardcore fighters. From punches to kicks, ripped muscles to yelps, the sound design pulls you in with help from some up close and personal camerawork to make the experience an amazingly intense one. O’Connor has also updated the Rocky montage, allowing the narrative of each brother to flow side-by-side with split screen techniques and ‘floating’ clips. The merging of sports commentator footage could have been tacky, but here it adds to the overall hype of the sport that we are being swept up in.
Warrior is an exceptionally truthful and powerful film that knocks The Fighter clear out of the park. The plot does have a couple of twists and turns that will have you questioning at first, but the script and cast commit to them so wholeheartedly that there is no room for doubt. You won’t care that the tears are streaming down your face by the final showdown, you’ll want to be up on your feet cheering the two brothers on, wrought with fear over who will take the prize. The ability this film has to make you invest so heavily in two such different people is astounding.
Forget Rocky, this is the sporting performance of our generation.