Sunday 4 March 2012

Warrior (2011) - Gavin O'Connor

Judging from the title you might be expecting a hard action film.  Instead, the quiet opening leads the way into a more reflective, human story.  Warrior is more The Fighter than Rocky.

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play two brothers in a broken family.  Their mother is dead and their drunk father is a constant source of disappointment.  Their lifestyles are total opposites - Brendan (Edgerton) a school physics teacher with a dire financial situation who strives to take care of his wife and daughters; Tommy (Hardy) a brooding, mysterious character whose secret past is set to catch up with him, uncovering a good natured and unassuming heart.  This isn't simply a good cop bad cop situation, the brothers feel like real people despite being fictional.  Both use fighting as a form of escape - Tommy haunted by his past, Brendan by money issues.  But this isn't a social depravity film, it's a film about forgiveness and redemption.  When both brothers enter a high stakes Mixed Martial Arts Tournament, their worlds collide - will the family scars be healed?  Can they learn to forgive the failures of their father and, more importantly, each other?

Two brothers, one tournament.  You don't need me to explain where this scenario is heading.

The dual narrative extends to the cinematography.  Brendan's scenes take place in bright, open spaces whilst Tommy is generally seen lurking in the shadows; later their worlds collide literally in split screen montage.  And audiences, too, will be split, siding with either brother in the final battle.  Anti-hero Tommy is the more interesting character and Hardy excels at playing the dark, brooding loner.  Brendan is the more obvious hero to root for, yet his story is less believable.  Would a school teacher really be allowed to enter a fighting competition?  Despite the hardships the plot sets up, both brothers, underdogs in the tournament, suddenly gain the approval of everyone a little too easily.  Largely, this is due to the lack of characterisation in the peripheral characters.  The focus is very much the brothers, though once they finally meet it comes across a little too Brokeback - their bromance, full of machismo posturing, borders on the homoerotic.  The script also feels hackneyed in these more intimate, emotional moments.

Despite the narrative flaws, the final third (taking place at the tournament) is suitably visceral, brutal and tense, even allowing for the predictable denouement.  It's admirable that Warrior's brother dichotomy lifts the film's narrative, laying the smackdown with drama that the audience can emotionally invest in.  It proves that being a warrior is more than fighting spirit - it's about heart.