A trailer proudly proclaimed mixed martial arts as "the fastest growing sport on Earth" prior to 'Warrior'. Considering 'Warrior' itself is basically a feature film length advert for MMA, I'm not sure it was all that necessary. But to portray the film as simply a run-of-the-mill sports drama would be doing it a great disservice. 'Warrior' is as emotionally powerful as it is primal - perhaps the closest thing to this generation's 'Rocky'.
'Warrior' examines the fractured relationship between the Conlon family - made up of father Paddy (Nick Nolte) and his two sons, Brendan and Tommy (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy). Paddy's alcoholism and domestic abuse ostracised Tommy in his youth, who left the family home with his now deceased mother.
Brendan's decision to stay with his abusive father equally affected Tommy, and when Tommy returns from military service, the two find themselves on a collision course in a winner-takes-all, megabucks MMA tournament. Tommy's decision to train with his father re-opens old wounds between the family while also opening the door for potential redemption.
Unfortunately, the trailer gives away the vast majority of the plot and hence the results of all but one of the fights. Yet director Gavin O'Connor places the viewer in the midst of the action, making each fight as engaging as the last. For the hardcore MMA fan, much of the action might be difficult to accept as realistic but for the unfamiliar, a vicious powerbomb merely adds to the excitement.
There are plenty of references for even the most casual of MMA fans throughout - from the allusion to "YouTube sensation" Kimbo Slice to the character of Russian world sambo champion, Koba, clearly inspired by Fedor. The latter character showing that only in a Hollywood film can an American Olympic gold medallist (Kurt Angle) wrestler end up playing a Russian beast. Although he stops short of saying "I must break you".
The acting of the central triumverate is excellent, each exhibiting pathos with ease. Nolte's turn is of particular note - awards glory is certainly possible. He and Hardy fit their roles perfectly, especially considering their own chequered pasts. Hardy continues his seemingly unstoppable rise into global superstar with his brooding intensity as Tommy while Edgerton follows up his impressive work in 'Animal Kingdom'.
The film arguably suffers from the strength of writing for the central trio, whereby the supporting cast is left to wilt in their collective emotional response of being either moany or weepy for almost the entire film. Clichés are abound also, and when the final moment of triumph over adversity occurs, it's difficult not to feel at least a tinge of cynicism about the way the viewer has been manipulated.
'Warrior' is a film about mixed martial arts. That much is obvious. But it's also a film about loss and acceptance. These themes and the emotional depth of the characters are what make 'Warrior' special, and not solely for fans of the sport. The only worry now is that the film will spark a host of MMA films to capitalise on the new-found popularity, with too little concern of anything aside from the action.
'Warrior' is on wide release throughout UK cinemas now.