I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Warrior

tn_warriorI’m surprised it took this long for somebody to make a straight drama about mixed martial artists. It seems so obvious. It would inherently have all the same dramatic elements as a boxing movie (underdog reaching for the top, wife tired of seeing him beat up, society treating him as a dumb brute, then the fear of losing it all by a loss or an injury, all that) plus the novelty of an expanded repertoire of moves (kicks, chokes, armbars, throws, flying knees) and of being a popular newer sport that hasn’t been done to death in movies.

Also it could dip into the themes from martial arts movies if it wanted to: different cultures, styles and camps, secret moves, important traditions. I’m sure we’ll eventually get a biography movie or two out of the sport. One about the Gracie family bringing jiujitsu to Brazil and then to the world by inventing and dominating the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Or maybe even better, one about Ken and Frank Shamrock, two street kids who became brothers by adoption, trained by their dad, becoming legendary fighters in Japan and then the US, having a falling out… somebody’s gotta do that movie.

mp_warriorBut this isn’t so much about the sport, it’s about a family, two brothers who participate in it and their fuck-up dad who got them started as a wrestling coach. They’ve all been estranged for years because dad (Nick Nolte) was an alcoholic wifebeater, Tommy (Tom Hardy) ran away with mom, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) stayed with him. Now the sons resent each other and hate the dad. But the movie starts with dad coming home late one night to find Tommy sitting on his stoop.

Dad is sober now and trying not to blow it. Tommy menaces him by asking him to have a drink and thinly veiling his hostility as friendly chitchat. It’s a tense scene, almost like Jackie Brown coming home and finding Ordell at her place and having to play like everything’s cool. Except it’s the guy and his own son. It’s like Tommy’s gotta get revenge on him for being a bad person by not letting him be a good person.

Meanwhile there’s Brendan, who used to fight in the UFC but now is a physics teacher. He married his high school sweetheart and has daughters. But his house is being foreclosed on so behind his wife’s back he starts doing small time cage fights for cash.

Tommy – who’s just back from Iraq, by the way, so there’s that too – has his own reason to need money. Through two separate sets of unlikely circumstances the brothers both end up fighting in the same big tournament created by a hedge fund billionaire putting up a $5 million prize. Tommy has his dad train him, Brendan won’t talk to him when they see each other, but Tommy’s even worse, being with dad every day but refusing to have a father-son relationship with him, or even a fighter-trainer relationship, if you think about it. He just torments him by using him for his talents and rubbing his nose in their failed relationship at the same time. No wonder he’s gonna be in that Batman movie, because here he’s a super villain masterminding a scheme for emotional vengeance.

The structure is kind of novel. First they set up the characters and the stakes and everything. But then instead of spending the whole middle section training and building up to the tournament they roll through the training quick and get right to it. I guess it could be a series of training montages with character development breaks (and maybe a part where they go to a bar and get drunk and start dancing real weird and get in a fight) but instead they do split screen and flip through multiple montages at the same time.

I really liked this movie – I just wish the camera operators had been allowed access to the fight scenes. I know I’m a broken record on this, but it would be irresponsible to talk about this movie without pointing out how fucking ridiculous it is to shoot fights this way. It’s gotten to the point where it almost seems like mainstream directors all got together and agreed to play a prank on everybody by making movies in a way that no reasonable person would seriously think was a good idea to make them. You might as well be doing a damn radio play at this point, or an abstract animation segment.

(this is gonna go on for a bit, I’ll mark it so you can skip it if you need to)

———–

You might think they’re just trying to hide that these are actors and not fighters, but that doesn’t explain it. These two are obviously very dedicated to the training. If careful planning and editing can make it look like Uma Thurman can fight then I’m sure it could make it look like Tom Hardy can. I’m betting the choreography is good, because it’s by J.J. Perry (UNDISPUTED II, BLOOD AND BONE, THE SHEPHERD: BORDER PATROL, HAYWIRE), but there’s no way to know from watching the movie. The style is to switch rapidly from the viewpoints of several people who can’t see well – somebody outside of the cage at a weird angle, somebody out in the crowd with their view blocked by taller people (I’m not kidding) – and intercut this with closeups of the fighters and numerous shots of the faces of people reacting to the fight. Basically we’re not allowed to see the fight clearly ourselves, we have to imagine it based on the expressions of characters that are seeing it clearly on various TV screens at bars and get-togethers.

Doesn’t pretty much everybody agree on this now, that they gotta stop doing this shit? Are there directors and cinematographers arguing “I would film it clearly and communicate a story, but people now days just don’t like understanding what they’re seeing”? If this was a documentary you would say “Yeah, it’s too bad they weren’t able to get any good footage.” Since it’s not a documentary, I guess you’re supposed to say “This is great, this is just what it would feel like to watch it if it was real and they weren’t able to get any good footage!”

In the world of realit if there’s a big fight you’ve been looking forward to and then somebody gets knocked out in the first minute or so, it’s disappointing. Maybe it was an amazing knockout, maybe your guy even won, but it’s like, shit, that’s it? All this build up and that’s all we get?

But at least you fuckin saw it! And they’ll replay it a bunch of times. Not in WARRIOR. You won’t see it. Sorry. This is not pay-per-view. This is modern cinema. We got different rules here, boy. You got a pretty mouth.

I don’t remember any parts in any of the ROCKY movies where I couldn’t tell which fighter was which. In this one there were very few shots during the several fights where you could clearly see who was who and what was going on. I never saw this director Gavin O’Connor’s hockey movie. Did they actually do a hockey movie where you can’t see what the hockey players are doing or which team is which? My hunch is no, but these days I can’t rule it out.

I know, WARRIOR is an Oscar bait drama, it’s not supposed to be BLOODSPORT. But the tournament is pretty much the second half of the movie. That’s alot of screen time dedicated to something you don’t think anybody wants to watch. It just seems like if you can’t learn how to shoot something like that you should make a movie about some other topic, maybe something where people stand still, like a spelling bee or something. Or start eating better and training with Nick Nolte every day until you’re ready.

this concludes the “these motherfuckers have killed the cinematic language” portion of THIS review only
———

O’Connor actually provided finishing funds for John Hyams’s great documentary THE SMASHING MACHINE, and has been a fan of the sport ever since, but he told Elvis Mitchell on The Treatment that “It’s not about MMA. It’s about forgiveness.” Therefore I will forgive him for making an MMA movie that I don’t think has a single Asian or Brazilian in it. We already got REDBELT for the meaning of mixed martial arts, and NEVER BACK DOWN 2 for references to different fighters and stuff. But it is kind of weird that these WARRIORs never talk about their fighting styles or anything. It’s one of those movies where third act exposition is mostly narrated by two commentators instead of shown (I think all sports movies have a commentator shouting “I’ve never seen anything like it!”) but I wish they’d talk more about the real stuff that gets talked about during fights, it kinda took me out of it.

Also to be honest, I’m not into MMA enough to be 100% clear what “Tapout” is (other than a t-shirt worn when the Ed Hardy one is in the wash) or why they keep showing that guy with the Sideshow Bob hairdo.

By now it’s gotta sound like I didn’t like this movie, but I honestly did. I just feel like it’s not living up to its full athletic potential. Once you get past that it’s a good melodrama. The reasons to see it are Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. Edgerton continues his streak of likable, decent man’s men roles. I wonder if he might be the Australian Hollywood leading man they’re trying to make Sam Worthington into? (Nothing against that guy, I like him too.) Warning: do not think about how much Edgerton looks like a musclebound Conan O’Brien.

Hardy is more of a chameleon type of actor obviously. We’ve seen him skinny, hulking, British, gay, psychotic… here he’s playing Vin Diesel, right down to the giant neck muscles. He probly still had some of the muscle leftover from BRONSON and that’s good ’cause he needed to make the shoulders extra big to fill in the chip he’s got there. I don’t know too many other musclehead-assholes-that-you-feel-sympathy for characters to compare Tommy to, but he’s probly one of the more interesting ones.

Nolte is great too, a fragile, timid man trying to keep the monster inside. His face, his walk and his croaky, Popeye-ish voice say “life has beat the shit out of me for 60 years,” his eyes say “Yeah, I know, it was my fault, I’m not complaining.” So even as you hear indications about the unforgivable shit he’s done you feel bad that his son is just crushing him, and that he knows he has to just stand there and take it. When this duel meets its breaking point it’s devastating. Tommy gets what he wants and you’re like “Are you happy now?” and the answer is no, he’s really not. And then he’s at his most sympathetic.

The climactic fight has some topnotch macho melodrama that would’ve probly had me crying like a baby if the unconscionable direction of the previous half hour hadn’t pushed me away emotionally. So the real excitement is not the fights but the various showdowns between family members – Tommy ambushing his dad, Tommy and Brendan talking for the first time in years. In fact when the two brothers confront each other on the beach it’s actually shot like a fight scene, giving them big entrances marching toward each other. I almost want to think O’Connor meant to shoot those conversations like they were the real fight scenes, but that’s no excuse for failing on the other ones.

The extra edge this movie has is that it’s a little more nuanced and less manipulative than you expect. There are plenty of ways it could’ve ended to be emotionally satisfying but not as believable. This movie’s willing to have some touching moments but still leave things messy, even unresolved. I like it. It’s a manly way to be sweet, I guess.

* * *

SPECIAL NITPICKS AND SPOILERS SECTION
don’t read the rest  if you haven’t seen it

This is stuff that didn’t really hurt the movie for me, but that I thought was humorously implausible.

*There’s no way that in an organized event like this a guy could keep fighting with a broken shoulder. This would have to be a sanctioned fight so there’d have to be a doctor there that could stop the fight. When they showed a doctor in the ring after the fight I thought “You’re not doing your job!”

But it’s cool how it’s a reversal of the KARATE KID or BEST OF THE BEST thing. Instead of a guy staying in the fight despite an injured limb he’s trying to get the other guy to stop because of his injury.

* Come to think of it, these guys only have 0-1 guys in their corners. No cut man or anything. Shoulda brought in Clint Eastwood. He could’ve given some tips about keeping the cameras calm, too.

* I love that this billionaire wants to find out “who’s the toughest man on the planet,” but apparently only among middleweights. Because the toughest man on the planet would obviously weigh less than 160 pounds.

That’s a problem with trying-to-be-believable fighting tournament movies in the post-UFC era. The original UFC tournaments with no weight classes, rounds or time limits and very few banned moves were as close as we’ll get. You can’t legally do that stuff anymore, and an illegal Kumite type situation isn’t gonna attract your Kobas and your Boykas. They’d only do it if you kidnapped their loved ones, but that would make this a real action movie, not a drama. Sorry hedge fund guy, but your money is worthless, you’re not gonna find out who the toughest man on the planet is.

*It doesn’t really make sense that nobody involved figured out these two were brothers until they were about to fight. And if it did happen nobody would believe it wasn’t set up.

* Alternate ending: It should end exactly the same, with the one brother helping the other walk backstage, but after it fades to black some text comes onto the screen that says, “Since they left the ring early neither fighter was awarded the $5 million. THE END.”

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 at 5:25 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Warrior”

  1. Never stop! Never apologize! Never back down(snicker)! No retreat, No surrender! We are looking at no less than the impending extinction of American action film-making, and in the broader sense the extinction of film-making itself. Cause if these are MOTION PICTURES we’re talking about here, than the ability to COMPETENTLY TRANSLATE MOTION is pretty fundamental. We’re not talking about some special niche’ here. But the ABC level rudimentary skills of the trade. So keep callin em out Main Man. Keep beatin that drum.

  2. boy, it’s disappointing to hear that the action scenes are so poorly edited

    Warriooooooooooors, come out to plaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!

  3. Man I am really disappointed to here that this film is full of post action nonsense. I had high hopes for this one. I will still see it but I will most likely wait till it is out on video.

    Vern, Tap Out is an MMA clothing brand. The guys you are referencing are the founders (one passed away a few years ago), they seem like goof balls but they are credited with sponsoring a lot of up and coming fighters, and helping to grow the sport of MMA. It is my understanding Tap Out sponsored MMA events and fighters when no one else would, and the brand grew with the UFC and the sport.

  4. A lot of mixed feelings for this movie. It’s bizarre, but it’s conventional.
    It’s all about MMA, and the guys look the part, but the action filmatism is terrible.
    It’s overloaded with high drama, but it’s Oscar bait shit.
    Is the guy a war hero or a pussy? Does he get imprisoned or does he get rich?
    It’s great economic narrative screenwriting & filmmaking, but all the piecing together of emotions & character backgrounds based on sad facial expressions & barely stated feelings and the Marine Corps chants and the principal cheering for his suspended teacher ultimately is manipulative and makes me feel like the movie is aimed more for my ladyfriend than for me.

    The story made me want to cry like a bitch, and I’m glad I was able to be caught up in the moment while I was watching it. That means the movie did its job, I got my money’s worth, thanks guys. But upon 5 minutes of reflection, I can’t get over how absurd it is that the movie makes nothing of the fact that the guys are among 16 individuals who get primetime TV coverage on ESfuckingPN. Am I really supposed to feel sorry or sympathetic? I appreciate the journey of how we got there, especially the teacher getting turned away by the bank and calling them out for getting bailed out by Bush/Obama — TOPICAL DRAMA — but how can I empathize with a couple of motherfuckers who are becoming world famous, who have an awesome opportunity to get rich & famous due to YouTube serendipity and due to one gym trainer friend calling in a huge favor (for what, by the way? I don’t recall ever learning the details.)?

    These days, you can get kicked off a 30-contestant reality show after 10 minutes, and you’re pretty much guaranteed some level of fame via spinoff cameo on some other garbage TV show or web video. A greedy talent manager will at least stretch out your 15 minutes of fame by securing you a moment of ridicule on The Soup. I bet some random background clubhopper who got puked on by Snooki 2 years ago has more twitter followers than I’d ever get. Point is, these “warriors” became stars, and the movie seems to pretend that’s not important. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just me.

  5. Haven’t seen it yet. It’s only being released in October here on my side of the planet. Did watch Colombiana a few days ago, though. Really enjoyed it.

    It made me think of this fascination (i.e. hate) we have with post-action and shaky-cam, and how we might be in danger of falling victim to kneejerk reactions. Colombiana had a very restless camera, but I never felt like I couldn’t see or understand what was going on. I tend to look at shaky-cam the same way I look at slow motion or voice-over narration. I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing. It all depends on how you communicate with it (although I’d probably never make use of it myself. I’m more of a steadycam man).

    A friend and I had an argument recently about the camerawork in John Rambo. He insisted it was shaky-cam. I disagree. To me, the last Rambo had the perfect kind of camerawork and editing for that kind of film. It was kinetic and fluent when it needed to be, but also knew when it needed to stand still and linger (lingering is very important and underused in action cinema, in my opinion).

    I guess a lot of it depends on the kind of action. Is it gun battle, or boxing, or mixed martial arts, or mixed martial gun boxing? That last one seems to be the one where post-action gets used the most. Maybe they should stop mixing shit up so much.

  6. Last week I linked to a three part article about actionscenes from Film Crit(ic) Hulk. He said that watching an actionscene was a four part process: 1. Anticipate the action, 2. Understand the action, 3. Feel the action and 4. Then the audience react to the action. So it’s obivious that in post-action a lot of directors doesn’t care about you understanding the action.

    Also is not just whats on the screen that makes an actionscenes good, but the context to the narrative, if we understand the goals of the characters in the scene and what the point of the scene is. In the end an actionscene is like any other dramatic scene, but just physical manifestation of a conflict.

    I think that article is one of the best about actionscenes. He also wrote a great one about film criticism.

  7. Ugh, that’s put me right off. An oscar-bait “two brothers” movie about the freaking MMA? That sounds like a TERRIBLE idea. Sorry, but it does. I’ve not read the spoiler section, but there’s no way that these two don’t end up fighting each other, right? If I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong (at least then it’d prove that the movie isn’t totally predictable and might make me reconsider).

    As much as I like Tom Hardy, I’ve just seen one movie where I literally saw practically every scene coming from the first ten minutes (“Jennifer 8″); that’s enough for me, thanks. Add in the usual post-action bullshit, and I simply can’t see any way I wouldn’t hate this movie. Does it at least have decent scoring (by which I mean we don’t get”uplifting” orchestral beats every time one of the main characters so much as does his shoelace up – damn, I fucking hate it when they do that)?

  8. Uh… I take it you didn’t see the trailer, Paul.

  9. I actually really like the idea of a big fight sequence being shot from an audience’s point of view, replete with obscured views and poor angles. But the idea would be way better served by a film with a sensibility like SCHIZOPOLIS than an actual fight movie.

  10. Reading this review made me want to watch Rocky IV again.

  11. Imagine if the fight at the end of ROCKY had sucked. Would anyone remember that movie today?

  12. Can someone explain to me my the brothers have different surnames? Are they only half-siblings?
    I saw Hardy in TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY today. It’s really good. Not a whole lot happens for a spy thriller(Hardy’s the closest thing the film has to a James Bond type, but only in that his character gets to be flash as part of his cover and seduce a chick), but the way the story plays out and the performances are all excellent, Oldman’s expecially since he says so much without…saying all that much.

  13. “Imagine if the fight at the end of ROCKY had sucked. Would anyone remember that movie today?”
    All I remember of that fight is Apollo being an overconfident goofball at the start, and the draw finish. I think people remember ROCKY more for the characters and training montages.

  14. ^Oldman’s especially.

  15. That might be true, but the whole movie is building up to that fight. If it had been lame, all that build-up would have been wasted, and the movie would have just been a halfway successful character study, not a satisfying and complete story. Back then, it would have been considered poor filmmaking to treat the climax of a plot as something to be shrugged off because the director didn’t consider his boxing movie to be a movie about boxing.

  16. Shame the action is filmed in “that” style. This’ll keep for me ’till the rental in that case. Shame, real damn shame.

  17. Stu – it’s explained in the movie that Hardy’s character took his mother’s last name after the family parted ways. This is the dubious explanation for a few important plot points.

  18. Knox – all I know about this movie is Vern’s review, plus the fact that a lot of people were screaming over the Internet: “This movie is gonna be AWESOME!” before it came out, and “Wait, no it’s not!” after it. Apparently a trend that continues on this forum. Which kinda sucks because I’d love to see a good, realistic, non-family-values-oriented portrayal of MMA in movies (I watch a lot of MMA). Unfortunately, from Vern’s review and some of the comments, this sounds like the exact opposite of that. And the thing that sucks is, those things that Vern said didn’t bother him, would absolutely bother me. I know my own brain.

  19. SPOILER

    SPOILER

    SPOILER

    SPOILER

    . . .

    After Brendan won I completely lost all respect for the movie, letting Tommy win Sparta would have been a more interesting creative choice.

  20. Greg, seriously not cool dude. Not only do you ruin the move with you unlabeled spoiler post, but you do in a way that it is short enough that is shows in the Recent commentary and jibber-jabber section. I am trying to be cool, but please show a little fucking consideration for your fellow readers. I assume you didn’t do it to be malicious, but your carelessness just ruined the movie for me and most likely a number of other folks around here.

  21. Or maybe Greg will turn into a Cialis salesbot…

  22. I still don’t see how this prequel leads to the gangland future world of Warriors…

  23. But at least we know where Jerry Horne was “doing business” when he left Twin Peaks. And then Matrix killed him last.

    Actually, David Patrick Kelly’s character in 48 HOURS was also named Luther. So we also know why he was too busy to pick up has car for three years.

  24. I’m sorry but this one didn’t work for me. The plot(s) was(were) just too overblown and unrealistic, and piled on too thickly. And I don’t think it’s being nitpicky to say the last fight is just absurd.

    I dunno. MMA is too rich a world to be served by a macho melodrama about daddy issues.

    Still I liked the tone of it, and it seemed to sort of treat my favorite sport with respect, even if it didn’t really understand it.

  25. Telf – I’ll see this one on DVD, but you’ve just superbly encapsulated every fear I had about this movie into one brief sentence. I get so fucking frustrated when movies insist on telling the “wrong story”. Talking a fantastic premise or setting, good actors, good direction etc; but murdering the ensuing movie with “family values” crap or false-morality or pseudo-religious bullshit or whatever. “Munich”, “The Tournament”, “Minority Report”… I could go on and on.

  26. Just saw the movie. Agree with pretty much everything Vern has to say, but my main problem was this: the purse is $5 million. Edgerton needs to pay his mortgage, Hardy wants to set up his war buddy’s widow. Is $2.5 million, even after taxes etc., not enough to accomplish either of those two goals? All one brother had to say to the other was “Listen, I’ll take a dive and we’ll split it.” Done. What is just one of them going to do with $5 million?? I know I know, there’s baggage. They don’t get along. It’s about more than the money for Hardy at least, I guess. But seriously, they’re both being fucking greedy by not simply splitting the prize money and going their separate ways…

  27. This is exhibit B) in my argument that the size of the screen can offset the shakycam in action scenes. (World War Z is exhibit A). I just saw this on a tiny screen and had zero problems following any of the fight scenes, but i don’t doubt that some of it might be hard to follow in the theatres. I never got fighters confused, I never had problems telling who was who. The fights had just enough movie-style choreography to make them not-boring (i.e. two dudes rolling around on the ground) but also were dialed back enough that it didn’t turn into Rocky IV or anything. Even though, yeah, the stuff that happens in the last fight was kind of ridiculous (as were most of the plot contrivances, but whatever)

    But yeah, there’s too much good stuff to ignore – the music, the pace, Edgerton and Hardy and obviously Nolte are fantastic. But the real standout for me was Frank Grillo. I’ve heard the internet go on and on about this guy for the past few years and I honestly had no idea who he was, but he’s awesome here. The first scene with him and Edgerton is so well-written, so well-acted, that it establishes their relationship better in 3 minutes than most movies can manage in the entire runtime. (Coincidentally, he’s in that Captain America elevator scene which played before Thor 2, which I saw on a giant IMAX screen and found to be the most incomprehensible action scene since the invention of post-action. Yes, worse than Taken 2.)

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