Movies chronicling the rise of a fighter from obscurity to world champion come out like clockwork from Hollywood. “Warrior,” from all early indications, seemed to be a straightforward film following that formulaic narrative. The film’s stars, Joel Edgarton and Tom Hardy, instead deliver a much deeper performance that made me leave the theater thinking about more than just the great fight sequences.
Instead of the typical setting of the boxing ring, “Warrior” steps into the octagon of mixed martial arts (MMA) and delivers a solid story about not one, but two obscure fighters’ rise to fame. Brendan Conlon (Edgarton), a former MMA fighter must turn back to his old profession when his job as a physics teacher fails to pay the bills and support his family. Former Marine Tommy Riordon (Hardy), who recently finished his tour in Iraq and has a strong background in wrestling, decides to fight for money over more obscure reasons.
Riordon enlists the aid of his father, a recovering alcoholic, as a trainer. Through months of difficult training, both men work their way into the world championship where Conlon and Riordon come to the realization that they are actually brothers fighting against one another for the largest purse in MMA history.
What impressed me the most about the film was the quality of storytelling. Despite my initial expectations, writers Gavin O’Connor and Cliff Dorfman do an outstanding job of creating an intricate narrative which kept me wondering about the final outcome until the ultimately satisfying fight sequences in the third act of the film. Although Brendan Conlon is the main character, his story never overshadows that of Tommy Riordon . Conlon and Riordon are brothers, and “Warrior” is ultimately about the bonds of family. The narrative reflects this by creating dynamic characters who must overcome internal as well as external conflict to be reunited.
One thing I was fully expecting in this film was some solid MMA fight action. “Warrior” fully delivered in this aspect as well. The pacing throughout the fights is accomplished excellently. The film begins with relatively low-key matches in the gym and at unofficial tournaments but gradually increases the intensity until the final battles for the championship. Riordon and Conlon also have distinctively different fighting strategies in the octagon, which keep the fights diverse and interesting as they batter their way through opponents.
“Warrior” delivered a much more satisfying experience than I was initially expecting. I went with the expectation of a so-so Rocky rehash, but found a film which has depth and poses some interesting questions about the ties of family.