Warrior (2011)

2016 #71
Gavin O’Connor | 140 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Two estranged brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton), who’ve taken very different paths in life to escape their alcoholic and abusive father (Nick Nolte), wind up entering the mixed martial arts tournament to end all mixed martial arts tournaments, their eyes on the unprecedentedly massive cash prize — one to save his house and family, the other to help the widow of his Army chum. As they separately go up against an array of more experienced opponents, who could possibly end up in the final bout? Hm, I wonder…

It’s a constant surprise to me that Warrior is on the IMDb Top 250 — and in a very secure 146th place, too — for two reasons: firstly because I’m not sure I’d ever heard anyone actually talk about it, except in passing as part of “the rise of Tom Hardy”-type passages; and secondly because, from the outside, it doesn’t look like a very Top 250-y kind of film. Maybe that’s silly, because there are several other boxing-related films on that hallowed list, but they seem to come from a different pedigree. I guess I’m trying to rationalise a feeling: from the little I’d seen or (not) heard, Warrior just doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would garner enduring acclaim from a wide enough audience to maintain such a position. Having chosen to watch it in part to assuage that confusion, I still find its placement just as baffling.

Trying to find some explanation, I turned to reviews and comments on film-focused social media sites. It quickly becomes apparent that the love for Warrior doesn’t just come from some silent majority of non-film-fan film viewers. Indeed, it’s amazing how many people of usually sound taste are suckered in by this movie — and how many of them know they’re being suckered in but let it happen anyway. The weirdest thing for me is that this is the kind of film I regularly award 4 stars even while loads of other people are giving it 3 and I think they’re being a bit harsh but I can see where they’re coming from. Now, I’m almost loath to give it 4 because I don’t agree with the consensus. And it’s a particularly strange consensus: everyone seems to acknowledge it’s terribly clichéd, but then give it a pass on that. Why? Why don’t you show the same leniency to the tonnes of other movies you rip to shreds for their clichés?

As I implied in my opening paragraph, you can tell how the climactic tournament is going to pan out before the film even begins. In a movie rife with cliché, the shape of that contest — who beats who and when — is the most clichéd part… and yet it also forms the climax. Surely the ending being the most rote bit should leave audiences with a sour taste? Yet they seem to become totally enraptured by it. “I knew I was being shamelessly manipulated by an overfamiliar story, but I loved it! Don’t worry, next week I’ll go back to completely slagging off every other movie that even tries to slightly manipulate me and has even the tiniest vaguely familiar aspect to it.” Presumably these people are even giving a pass to the film’s laughable training montage — I guess no one involved in Warrior has seen Team America.

Still, you could argue the film isn’t about the tournament — it’s about a broken family healing. But if you’re looking for exceptional quality in the dramatic stakes or performances, you’re still left wanting. The family drama is rendered in frequently familiar beats, and when it’s not dealing in clichés it’s dealing in cheap sentiment. Hardy’s character is a war-hero marine — for the American male audience Warrior is clearly aimed at, that’s basically hanging a sign around his neck that says “awesome guy” and letting it suffice for characterisation and backstory. Hardy is a good actor, but he’s not called on to do much more than glower. Oscar-nominated Nick Nolte gives an affecting performance, though I’m not sure his character arc actually reaches any kind of ending. The rest of the cast are adequate: Joel Edgerton is decent as an upstanding family man; Jennifer Morrison has little to do as his wife; Frank Grillo is convincing as a trainer who bases his philosophy on classical music; Kevin Dunn gets some amusing moments as Edgerton’s school principal. Other people sometimes say words.

Warrior is decent enough for a cliché-driven sports movie, and it certainly has all the attendant ‘victorious’ moments that make such movies feel good without having to try very hard, and at least the fight choreography is decent (I’ve no idea how faithful it is to real MMA, but it seems reasonably plausible to me), and there’s one pretty good performance… but Top 250? I remain baffled.

4 out of 5

The Delayed Monthly Update for April 2016

I was away this weekend and didn’t have much time for blogging, and most of what I did have was spent finishing 1999 Week, so that’s why this post is later than normal (and also why I have plenty of your posts & comments still to catch up on!)

(Also-also, if you were wondering where the “top films of 1999” post I promised had got to, I wrote about three-quarters of it before I decided it was rubbish, so I abandoned it. I’m sure I’ve published lots of rubbish on this blog over the years, but never deliberately.)

Anyway, on with what I watched in April…


#68 Of Human Bondage (1934)
#69 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
#70 Cool World (1992)
#71 Warrior (2011)
#72 The Limey (1999)
#73 The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
#74 Election (1999)
#75 The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984), aka Wu Lang ba gua gun
#76 Ghosts of Mars (2001)
#77 Caesar Must Die (2012), aka Cesare deve morire
#78 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
#79 Lost River (2014)
#80 The Fighter (2010)
#81 Wuthering Heights (2011)
#82 A Royal Night Out (2015)
#83 Locke (2013)
#84 Maleficent (2014)
#85 Christine (1983)
#86 The Iron Giant (1999)
#87 Badlands (1973)
#88 Pixels (2015)

.


  • This is the earliest I’ve ever reached #75 — the previous best was 1st June, last year.
  • Coincidentally, I reached #75 this year on the date that I reached #50 last year (8th April) — which at the time was a record.
  • “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” continues at pace with Brad Bird’s popular animated B-movie homage The Iron Giant. I’ve already reviewed it here.
  • Four films from 1999 this month. We know what that led to.


For the fourth month in a row, I’ve crossed the 20 film boundary. Out of 112 months I’ve been doing this, it’s only the 7th time that’s happened. Expressed another way, it only happens 6.25% of the time; before 2016, it only happened 2.78% of the time (and before 2015, it only happened 1.04% of the time!)

The final number of films this month was actually 21, which is slightly behind the 2016 average — but only slightly, because that was 22.3. It’s now adjusted to a round 22. Conversely, being five films better than April’s previous best, it raises the April average from 8.25 to 9.67.

Predictions are typically futile, though it’s beginning to look like I’ll be away for most of December, which throws an interesting variable in the mix. (I say “interesting” in a relative sense.) Of course, “most” is not “all”, so it likely won’t count for 0 — but will it reach the 10-per-month minimum I’ve been holding steady on for nearly two years now? Well, that’s a discussion for December itself. In the meantime, even if December doesn’t reach 10, my final tally should be in excess of 160 — easily enough to score the second best year ever. If I hew closer to that 22 average, 2016 could wind up passing 250…



Foreign deconstructions of American values, genre revisionism, high camp, one of the greatest Bond films, and paternal revelations — it’s all go in this month’s eight favourites!



The 11th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite an easy choice this month. Films that are made ‘artily’ (for want of a better word) sit on a fine line, for me: too far one way and they tip off into pretentious dullardom, but get it right and they can be utterly fantastic. A couple of films erred on the right side of that line this month, thankfully, but only one really nailed it, and that was The Limey.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Even in a month that includes multiple critically-reviled films (Cool World, Ghosts of Mars, Lost River, Pixels), my pick for this category was really easy — and it’s none of those. This winner’s predecessor wasn’t exactly high art (far from it), but it had something to it — some innovation; some merit in its extremeness. This sequel doesn’t have that. For being almost entirely vacuous and looking cheap as chips, this month’s travesty of cinema is 300: Rise of an Empire.

Most Inexplicably Popular Film of the Month
I’m going to steal a bit from the draft of my forthcoming review to explain this one: “The weirdest thing is, this is the kind of movie I regularly give 4-stars to, while loads of other people give it 3 and I think they’re being a bit harsh but I can see where they’re coming from. Yet somehow Warrior transcends such criticism from people who usually have too much ‘taste’ — they acknowledge it’s terribly clichéd, but then give it a pass on that. Why? Why don’t you give the same leniency to the tonnes of other movies you cruelly rip to shreds for their clichés?” (For more on this theme, see table9mutant’s review.)

Most Critically-Reviled Film of the Month That I Actually Really Enjoyed
As I alluded to above, there are several contenders for this trophy (not Cool World, though — that is rubbish). Leaving aside a couple of sci-fi blockbusters that, while not as bad as many critics made out, are still not really more than “entertaining while they’re on”, the winner here is Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River. Heavily influenced by other filmmakers, certainly, and almost self-consciously elliptical with its pace and storytelling, I nonetheless thought there was a lot to like if you’re open to ‘that kind of film’ (think Lynch).

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Thanks to a retweet by Film4, views for Starman went through the roof (relative to my normal posts, anyway). It wasn’t enough to challenge Harry Potter 1&2 for the most-viewed post of the month overall, but then nothing ever is.


Once upon a time, I made a comment that can be summarised as, “Perhaps one day I could reach #100 in May — ha ha ha ha ha, like that could ever happen!”

Well…