DVD Release Date: December 20, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: September 9, 2011
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 139 min.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Actors: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn

“Let’s go to war!” the referee shouts at the start of each of the mixed martial arts (MMA) contests that dominate the second half of Warrior, the new film from writer/director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle). Similar in notable ways to last year’s The Fighter, this well acted crowd pleaser about wars waged inside the ring as well as within the protagonists’ souls could find itself standing, arms raised, when the 2011 awards season rolls around.

Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are brothers, estranged from each other and from their father Paddy (Nick Nolte), who drank to excess while raising them. As the movie opens, a grown Tommy pays a visit to Paddy and offers his father a drink.

“That’s not for me anymore,” Paddy tells his son. He’s approaching day 1,000 of sobriety. The rosary that dangles from his rearview car mirror and the Bible on a table in his home testify to the newfound power in his life, but Paddy doesn’t verbalize his faith. The script leaves that to the incredulous Tommy, who wonders where the kinder, gentler version of dad was during the years Tommy needed a father figure. “So you found God,” Tommy sniffs. “I guess Jesus was down at the mill forgiving all the drunks.”

Still smarting from having to care for his mother after the dissolution of his parents’ marriage, Tommy remembers how his mom, her health failing, was “waiting for your pal Jesus to save her.” Now Tommy needs his father’s help. An MMA fighter, Tommy needs a trainer for an Atlantic City competition: A group of contestants will participate in a series of cage matches until one man is left standing to collect the big payout. Dad, who had success as Tommy’s wrestling coach earlier in life, agrees to train Tommy for the bouts.

At the same time, Tommy’s brother, Brendan, is facing a crisis. He needs money to pay his bills and keep his house from going into foreclosure, but his day job as a school teacher won’t cover what he owes. Long ago, he had success as an MMA fighter, so, desperate for a way out of his financial predicament, he finds a way to enter the same MMA competition as his brother, despite the objections of his wife (Jennifer Morrison).

The set-up to the big MMA contest is Warrior’s strong suit. Paddy’s brokenness, his seeking of forgiveness, and the way he faces his sons’ rejection of his overtures is the heart of this affecting drama. Also strong is Edgerton’s performance as Brendan, one step from financial ruin and facing extremely long odds at digging out of his financial hole. Scenes featuring his boss at school (Kevin Dunn) provide helpful moments of comic relief.
Yet even at 139 minutes, Warrior, like The Fighter, has some difficulty tying together its various plot strands.

Just as it took some time to figure out who the title character was in The Fighter (Mark Wahlberg’s character? Christian Bale’s?) and whose story ultimately was the heart of that film, Warrior shifts its focus from Paddy to Brendan to Tommy and back to Brendan. Last year’s The Fighter found a way via effective use of soundtrack songs and David O. Russell’s directorial flourish to propel its narrative through those rough patches. Warrior has trouble navigating similar waters. O’Connor never loses the audience, but the introduction of Paddy and his subsequent diminishment within the narrative hurts the film a bit. He’s never entirely absent from the story, but he’s set up as the pivotal character, only to see the film turn its focus to Brendan. The character of Tommy, who early in the film seems to be the key to the drama, gets swallowed up as Brendan’s story is developed, despite an awkwardly inserted back story for Tommy that involves the Iraq war.