The new mixed martial arts fight film, “Warrior” from director Gavin O’Connor doesn’t pull any punches. It serves up equal portions of pith and gore with gritty characters and a 45-minute non-stop action finale that will leave you panting for a timeout.
Two brothers, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy), are launched into a $5 million winner-take-all MMA tournament called Sparta.
Both brothers are down on their luck and need the money. Brendan’s house is in foreclosure after he was fired from his high school teaching job for fighting in an MMA fight. The enigmatic Tommy is both a Marine war hero and a deserter, a curious contradiction that fuels his rage and rootless lifestyle.
Tommy’s goal is to give the purse to his fallen comrade’s wife in a final show of selflessness before being carted off to jail for going AWOL in Iraq.
One driven by the need to support his family and the other by sheer aggression and retribution, the two brothers aim to exorcise their demons by winning the Sparta tournament.
After not seeing his dad, Paddy, for 14 years, Tommy warily returns to Philadelphia to seek his guidance.
Paddy, played by Nick Nolte, does have some credentials having coached Tommy to high school wrestling fame many years before. The two strike an uneasy alliance, and training begins out of a disheveled house and converted boxing gym.
Almost as many epithets are hurled at Paddy as punches are thrown in sparring, but somehow, the two manage to complete a successful training camp.
The homage to the film Rocky is obvious, but the exhilarating rags to riches story of Rocky Balboa is absent here amidst a muddle of melodramatic scenes that are overdone and poorly explained.
Tommy berates and debases Paddy for being a terrible father for not being there when he needed him, while Nolte whimpers, croaks and sobs repeatedly in tight close-ups. He’s a shoe-in for best supporting actor in this role.
The other brother, ex-school teacher Brendan (the similarity to UFC fighter Rich Franklin’s history is interesting), convinces his old friend, a Greg Jackson-like fight guru, to train him.
In a Hollywood minute, both brothers attain world-class fighting skills and somehow find a spot in the Sparta tournament. After the single elimination fights narrow the field down to two fighters, guess who is left? Yes, brothers Brendan and Tommy remain to vie for the top prize.
What ensues is an over-the-top grunt and gore spectacle that bears little resemblance to a professional MMA contest.
The outcome is unimportant, as by the time the fight is over, everything has been beaten out of the audience and we care for little else than seeing an end to the assault on our senses.
Several actual fighters appear in the film, including Anthony Johnson, Yves Edwards, Nate Marquardt, Rashad Evans and Stephan Bonnar. Curiously, a fight announcer bears an uncanny resemblance to Joe Rogan.
Dana may consider having the ring card girls bounce large beach balls emblazoned with the round numbers into the crowd as they do in the film in what could be an instance of life imitating art.
At least this way, we can glean something from the film besides an ear-splitting, retina-numbing video game expression of MMA.
The film is touchingly dedicated to Carl “The Mask” Lewis, one of the Founders of the Tapout clothing brand.