I could have sworn I’d written a review for Warrior on a previous blog, but I couldn’t find any evidence of it. No big deal. I rewatched the movie recently, and it’s still fantastic. The plot can be shaky, with two amateur fighters somehow managing to find themselves in an MMA tournament alongside the best fighters in the world. Regardless, the characters and beatdowns make Warrior one of the great sports movies of the past few decades.
Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and his little brother Tommy (Tom Hardy) are estranged and couldn’t be more different. Brendan is a school teacher who can take a beating and surprises his opponents with submissions. Tommy is a stoic Marine who brutalizes anyone and everyone he fights. They’ve both made mistakes in life, and their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) knows plenty about regret. I appreciate that the boys’ history isn’t told in flashbacks; it reveals itself naturally through conversation. It’s easy to understand and empathize with the characters, and most of the conflict is based on years of physical and emotional pain.
I should point out I don’t care much about MMA or the UFC. I’ll happily watch a good fight while sitting at a bar, but I couldn’t tell you much about the sport or its stars. On the other hand, I love the battles of Warrior. Watching Tommy beat down Mad Dog doesn’t get old. Then we have the unbeatable Koba, played by one of my favorite WWF wrestlers, Kurt Angle. The first time I watched Warrior, I eagerly anticipated the fight between Tommy and Koba. It would have been like watching a classic Godzilla vs. King Kong flick. Instead it’s Brendan who must survive a match against Koba. And Brendan’s tenacity, inventiveness, and unwillingness to break a vulnerable Koba make him someone to stand up and cheer for.
Without its emotional core and family tension, this movie would be forgettable. And without the well choreographed and exciting fights, it would be a failure as a sports movie. Warrior uses its strengths to tell a moving story about family and forgiveness. Sure it carries its share of sports movies cliches, but there are few movies that can match the catharsis of watching two brothers mend their relationship by beating the hell out of each other.