Warrior: Almost a knockout

U/A; Drama
Dir: Gavin O'Connor
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

There's something to be said about a movie that spells out every intention it has and then proceeds to embrace it all wholeheartedly. Warrior, a movie that's one part family drama and one part mixed martial arts (MMA) tour de force, is one such example.

Of course, it does suffer from the same chronic predictability that afflicts all boxing movies. So we have the disappointing parent in the form of aged ex-boxer Paddy Conlon (Nolte), a man whose boozy past tore apart a family that included his two tough sons. The elder one, Brendan (Edgerton), is the level-headed son; he's a physics teacher whose demeanor seems gentle until he gets into the ring, where he waits for his turn and attacks with calculated ferocity. The younger one, Tommy (Hardy), is the enfant terrible; he's silent, brooding and a raging bull when it comes to fighting, consistently following the pummeling-the-opponent-half-to-death philosophy.

The story is essentially that of a fractured relationship between the two brothers, with their mutual hatred for their father being the only binding factor between them. This is, of course, apart from a desire to win an MMA tournament named Sparta that offers to wipe away all their respective troubles (or does it?).

That the movie is feverishly headed towards a brother v/s brother climax is inevitable and this holds true even if you haven't seen the poster or trailer of this film. The narrative starts off beautifully, establishing the characters slowly, with director O'Connor (Miracle) employing obligatory techniques such as handheld cameras and de-saturated, grainy colours that have come to define (and glamourise) suburban squalor in today's cinema. As the story goes from checkpoint to checkpoint (including a fluid, split-screen training montage that looks like it was guest directed by Oliver Stone -- this is not praise), various sub-plots are thrown in mainly to explain Tommy's background, including a somewhat half-baked angle regarding his military service.

The emotional punches thrown at the viewer are many. Some of them hit home, such as the acidic conversations between Tommy and his apologetic father, who he asks to be trained under but draws the line at any reconciliation. Many scenes are impressively realistic, like the conversations between Brendan and his wife Tess (a competent Morrison). And then there are some that veer dangerously towards melodrama, like a scene involving a drunken Paddy loudly reciting passages from Moby Dick.

Ultimately, despite the cliches, what keeps the movie afloat are the excellently filmed fighting sequences that dominate the last hour (big props to cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi and fight coordinator J J Perry), which are without doubt some of the best seen in a long time, although perhaps a tad watered down for the big screen. The other accolades belong to the fabulous cast, but mostly to Nolte and Hardy, whose nuanced performances portray almost perfectly the internal strife and anguish (tempered with vicious masculinity in the latter's case) experienced by their characters.

It's funny; Warrior lacks the aesthetic sheen of last year's The Fighter and is definitely the lesser film of the two. At the same time, however, it possesses enough heart to transcend its limitations and land an almost equally effective cinematic blow.

P.S.: Is this is a preview of Tom Hardy's portrayal of Bane in next year's Batman sequel 'The Dark Knight Rises'? Well, damn.

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