Wednesday, March 7, 2012
All the Clichés, But All the Heart Too.
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Written by: Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn, Maximiliano Hernández, Vanessa Martinez.
Running time: 135 min.
Imagine how Warrior must have looked on paper: another fighting movie about two brothers from a stuffed up family who are the underdogs that have to fight there way up and win against all odds. I can imagine the money-grubbers turning their heads away and wondering when the next movie about boxing robots was going to be pitched. Alas, even though Hollywood is partial to their clichéd stories that generally make everyone feel good, Warrior had the incomparable task of making Hollywood like it, and everyone else too (if you think about it, not many films succeed in that area). Like the story in the movie, Warrior was a film that not many of us expected great things to come out of. It was indeed the underdog who achieved some great things.
So if it was so clichéd or overdone, then why did it become such a success? Because it is not the movie you thought it was. Look at the trailer. It is trying to sell you this movie like it is some sort of Disney movie for adults. It isn't. For the most part, it plays out a little like The Fighter (and there's nothing wrong with that), before leading you into a trap that you saw coming the whole time but you don't know how to deal with it. If you're anything like me, you will probably feel an explosion of emotions because of the decisions that have to be made. And it is torture. What this film does, and does so well, is present to us something that we are all well used to seeing, and then punch us in the face when it comes down to it all. That's exactly what I like to see from a movie. But to be honest, who doesn't love an underdog triumphs all story?
While the film may comfort you with its scattered clichés, chances are that you won't be comforted by the characters and the stories behind them. We are first introduced to Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), a former US Marine, returning to visit his former alcoholic father Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte). Tommy joins up with a local gym to train as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, and despite his bitter attitude towards his father, he asks him to train him so he can go forth and win a huge tournament. His brother, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), who doesn't know that he is around, is a physics teacher with a wife (played by Jennifer Morrison, who is currently on the hit TV show Once Upon a Time) and two kids. Even though it would seem that they live a good lifestyle, they have run out of money. Instead of declaring bankruptcy, Brendan tries to earn money by fighting MMA in the carpark of a strip club, before also going forth to train for the huge tournament. These characters are wondrously crafted, with their stories running along side each other showing two people desperate to win that tournament. It doesn't throw huge issues like alcoholism at you like a ball of guilt. Everything is crafted so it is realistic, especially as it shows themes of reconciliation and human spirit without dipping it in treacle first.
It is a powerhouse of emotion, which is due to the great performances which its international cast draw out. Joel Edgerton may not be ground-breaking, but he plays his part of a man doing anything to keep his family afloat well. I'm glad to see that he is slowly getting more and more roles, and this film should be an advocate for that. In all honesty, though, this is Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte's film. They spend the large majority of the film together, and they create some of the best celluloid 2011 had to offer. Hardy plays the bitter and remorseful ex-US Marine with vigour, dripping anger off his every word. This creates a stark contrast to Nolte's character, who has searched for a better life after alcohol. Tommy teases and taunts him, brushes him off, tears him apart. It is heartbreaking to watch, especially when Paddy brings in an old record from Tommy's school days and he pushes him away. There are small moments like these when Paddy realises that there isn't any chance of reconciliation (nor is there any with Brendan, either), but when it all gets too much, it is absolutely shattering. That was the moment where Nolte not only earned that Oscar nomination, but had there been no Christopher Plummer, he should have won. And had this year's Best Actor race not been so cramped up, Tom Hardy should have snagged a nomination for himself, too.
Sports movie? Eh, this is not a sports movie. It is one hell of an emotional rollercoaster, with some pretty well filmed MMA fight sequences put in between. At 135 minutes, this movie only just overstays its welcome, but otherwise, it is one of the best films that 2011 had to offer. It goes above and beyond what that shonky pitch said that it would offer.
What I got: