“Warrior” Movie Review

     The Mixed Martial Arts drama “Warrior” aims to be the first film to use the popularity of MMA and pair it with a compelling story.  Director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle) succeeds to a point, but a mostly MMA undereducated audience will likely think the fighting in the film is too brutal and this may overshadow the story to most.  I have no idea why people can accept Rocky getting his face beat in to the point that it resembles raw hamburger, yet they see MMA and freak out.  That’s ashamed because “Warrior” does a great job of accurately portraying MMA and the training done to prepare for a fight.  Backed with a great story and script, the film will likely create a sub genre of sorts the same way Rocky did 35 years ago.  Last year’s “The Fighter” benefited from what “Rocky” created, whereas, “Warrior” benefits from nothing and stands on its own.

     Warrior won’t wow you with its star power.  The ever dependable Nick Nolte plays Paddy, the estranged father of two sons who themselves have gone separate ways after their parents divorce.  Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a high school Science teacher who has found himself in a dire financial situation.  To make extra money, he secretly competes in MMA bouts at a local strip club (On a side note, the film tries to make sure the audience knows this is rock bottom when it comes to fighting, but I’ve seen worse.  A buddy of mine got his start fighting in a run down bar in Salt Lake City.  After acting as his corner man, the promoter handed me a check made out to my friend for $35! But I digress.).  Brendan’s brother Tommy (Tom Hardy), enters the film under a completely different set of circumstances having just returned from a tour in the Middle East. Tommy reconnects with Paddy, who we are told trained him as a teenager and helped him become a high school wrestling champion.

     Both brothers have issues with each other and with their father, but ultimately they both find their way into a 16 man MMA tournament called “Sparta.”  Billed as the “Super Bowl of Mixed Martial Arts”, the tournament has the fighters competing over the course of two nights.  I guess at this point I could begin telling you how unrealistic the film is when it comes to MMA.  If you follow the sport, than you already know the UFC is the prominent organization that promotes these types of events.  An athletic commission would never sanction a tournament like this anymore, though the format is how the sport got started over 15 years ago.  The Sparta event is meant to depict present day, so right there it gives people the wrong idea.  If this truly was a tournament to determine who the “baddest man on the planet” is, neither Brendan and especially Tommy would be asked to be a part of it.  The film’s script does have two separate plot devices which explain how and why they are chosen, but realistically it would never happen, just like Rocky would’ve never gotten his shot! 

     Though we are told immediately that Brendan and Tommy are brothers, the audience at Sparta doesn’t find out until they meet in the finals.  Tommy is the brawling type and prefers to finish his fights standing.  Brendan fights more as an over achiever, taking grueling amounts of punishment before using his Submission skills on the ground to beat his opponent.  There is a tremendous buildup to the final, as we get to see each of the brothers initial bouts.  One of Brendan’s more entertaining fights is with a Russian fighter named Koba, played by wrestling superstar Kurt Angle.  Clearly based off real life fighter Fedor, Koba is supposed to walk through Brendan, but of course that doesn’t happen. 

     As we watch the UFC become more mainstream each day, I think we’ll begin to see more films like Warrior.  There are definitely stories to be told.  I’ve read the biographies of every UFC fighter that has one and I feel each would make a compelling story for a film someday.  I only hope for the next one that the UFC actually allows the filmmakers to use their brand.  Any made up organization won’t feel real.  It was the draw back to “Any Given Sunday” and it’s the draw back here.  I almost laughed in the theater when a Sparta announcer referenced that Brendan once fought in the UFC, but now he’s on the big stage.  As if Sparta were a step up.  In the future, that won’t cut it but for now Warrior has clearly set the standard for an MMA film. GRADE: B