Incredible ‘Warrior’ With Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte

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CHICAGO – Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior” is such a powerful, unusual film that we’re doing something we don’t typically do at HollywoodChicago.com – giving you an early warning that an incredible piece of filmmaking hits theaters in a few weeks on September 9th, 2011. As so many films get lost in the Friday shuffle of new releases, it seems easier for a quality, smaller film to miss its audience. Don’t lose “Warrior.” It’s one of the best films of 2011.

Being about men who fight that happen to be brothers will draw many comparisons to the Oscar-winning “The Fighter,” but “Warrior” is a much darker, introspective film. As much as I like David O. Russell’s 2010 work, it’s a movie that plays in broad archetypes – the fighter, the brother, the mother, the girlfriend. “Warrior” doesn’t draw those lines nearly as distinctly, to the point where it doesn’t even present a single protagonist to root for nor does it as clearly set up an arc of redemption for any of its characters. This is a daring film, one that naturally is forced to use some sports movie clichés but does so in a way that feels unique.

Warrior
Warrior
Photo credit: Lionsgate Pictures

The film opens with a scene that lays bare the deep emotional wounds of two of its major players – Tommy (Tom Hardy of “Inception”) has come home to see his father Paddy (Nick Nolte) for the first time in many years. It becomes clear that Tommy and his mother left home ages ago to escape the abusive patriarch. Expecting to find Paddy in his typically-drunk state, Tommy seems almost angry that dad’s been sober for almost three years. He didn’t come to forgive him.

While Tommy begins to work out some of the intense anger he appears to carry in every muscle of his body at the gym, we meet his brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton of “Animal Kingdom”). The more mild-mannered teacher is a family man with a gorgeous, supportive wife (Jennifer Morrison of “House”). But he’s been hit by the economic crisis. He’s going to lose his home if he doesn’t come up with some funds soon. He returns to fighting in cash bouts in the parking lots of strip clubs, a choice that causes his suspension from school and creates some trouble at home.

Tommy and Brendan’s arcs will rise apart from each other for a large majority of the film. In fact, they share only a couple of scenes (although they are, of course, the most pivotal in the entire piece). “Warrior” tells two parallel stories with the same intensity, attention to detail, and audience engagement. It’s not long before both men are enrolled in Sparta, an Atlantic City MMA tournament designed to find the best fighter in the world. As Tommy and Brendan train, we learn little bits and pieces about their backgrounds and what got them to this place, culminating in some of the most riveting fighting sequences in the history of film.

Warrior
Warrior
Photo credit: Lionsgate Pictures

An alcoholic dad and the two sons who he both trained and permanently scarred – it sounds like a playground for bad sports movie writers. Director O’Connor (“Miracle”) and co-writers Anthony Tambakis & Cliff Dorman refuse to play the piece like the broad, Disney-fied redemption story that it could have easily become. Much of the film is shot with a fly-on-the-wall, handheld aesthetic and there are no pop tunes (although opening and closing with The National was a brilliant move) set to inspiring montages. “Warrior” is a dark film about damaged people and one of its greatest accomplishments is how genuine that damage becomes for the viewer. We believe Tommy, Brendan, and Paddy not as iconic creations like Rocky or even Mickey Ward but as real people.

It helps that O’Connor and his team hired three actors almost equally deserving of Oscar nominations six months from now. Hardy gives as physically transformative a performance as you’ll see this year, bringing to life a man so deep in the pain of his own history that it feels like he has no choice but to express it through violence. It’s a performance that works incredibly in the moment but improves upon retrospection. You know those great characters who become even more memorable the further you get away from a film? Tommy Conlon is one of those. We only get a few a year, if we’re lucky.

Warrior
Warrior
Photo credit: Lionsgate Pictures

And Hardy’s accomplishments here shouldn’t diminish the incredible work of Edgerton. Tommy is a physical force with which it can be hard to identify but Brendan is more of the everyman – the guy who isn’t fighting for pride or vengeance but merely to keep his family together. What if someone told you that you had to win something to keep your house? Would any part of you give in? Edgerton conveys the urgency of his character’s situation impeccably while also completely selling the confusion over how to interact with his brother and father.

Then there’s Nick Nolte. The great character actor and Oscar nominee gives easily one of the best performances of his career and proves that he isn’t done taking challenging roles (as recent choices like “Arthur” and “Zookeeper” might have suggested). Nolte personifies a man that could have so easily become nothing but generalizations about forgiveness and regret but remains completely believable in every single scene. It’s one of the best supporting performances of the year and the film’s best shot at an Oscar nomination.

Although it shouldn’t be. “Warrior” should be a multiple nominee. This is the kind of film that one hopes catches on with not just the MMA audience who will surely adore it but with absolutely everyone. It’s hard to believe that there’s anyone out there who wouldn’t be on the edge of their seat for the final half-hour of this drama. “Warrior” is moving, engaging, and, ultimately, an astonishing piece of cinema.

Stay tuned to HollywoodChicago.com for more coverage of this incredible film and check out the preview below.

”Warrior” stars Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, and Jennifer Morrison. It was written by Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis & Cliff Dorfman and directed by O’Connor. It will be released on September 9th, 2011 and is rated PG-13.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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