Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has been steadily growing in popularity for years. Ever since Dana White founded Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and legitimized the sport, it's buy-rates and place in contemporary culture has been assured. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood took advantage of its popularity and created a sports drama centred around MMA. Warrior is that film. Using typical boxing film conventions made famous in films like Rocky, Warrior grabs the audience in a kimura and refuses to let go.
The action centres around the Conlon family; estranged brothers Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy) and their ex-alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte). Tommy returns to Pittsburgh after leaving the marine corps, and knocks out the number 1 contender to the Middleweight MMA title in his local gym. He decides to enter the upcoming MMA tournament and stand a chance of winning the $5m prize, which he plans to give to the widow of his brother-in-arms but has to ask Paddy for help training him. Meanwhile, Brendan an ex-fighter-turned school teacher enters the same tournament for fear of losing his house through bankruptcy.
The setup is formulaic, as is often the case in boxing dramas, but it serves a purpose and allows the drama to unfold in the 'cage' rather than in everyday life. From the moment the film begins you know exactly where the plot is leading you, but you don't mind because a tournament allows the film-makers to show exactly why sports events are so popular; The excitement and thrill of seeing people trying to become the best at something. It's vicarious living at its best. Where Warrior is different is that you have duelling narratives of both brothers. Brendan is the calm 'never say die' underdog like sylvester Stallone in Rocky, while Tommy is a force of aggression-filled nature, like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull.
The three leads are on absolute top-form. Edgerton encapsulates the 'good guy' who is doing everything for the love of his family and to prove to himself that he can win. Nolte has a fantastic turn as the ex-alcoholic learning to deal with the sins of his past and he cuts such a forlorn figure for much of the film, it's difficult not to sympathise. The real star of the film however, is Tom Hardy who gives an utterly mesmarising performance as the seething embodiment of rage and torture. It bodes well for his upcoming performance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises that he so easily can switch from moody, world-weary everyman to the caged animal unleashed at fight time.
The one area of the film that is a little diappointing is the fights themselves. For anyone who has seen MMA, the portrayal of each fight is very simplistic and barely scratches the surface of this varied and brutal sport. At times, with the quick cuts and the obvious show-boating at times it resembles professional wrestling more than MMA, a fact not helped by the appearance of former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle as the unstoppable Russian entrant Koba.
But this is a minor gripe in an otherwise thoroughly entertaining entrant in the sporting films hall of fame. The performances set this film head and shoulders above many other films of a similar type, and whilst the plot of hackneyed and the action a little overblown, there's plenty to enjoy in Warrior. Now let's hope that this becomes the first MMA film and not the only MMA film.
Rating: * * * *