What Warrior lacks subtlety, it makes up for it in its forcefulness. As a high school physics teacher, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) discusses Newton’s second law of physics, wherein “force equals mass times acceleration” – it certainly spells out a lot of what to expect out of the film. Warrior not only hits upon typical clichés that one would find in a sports film of this fashion, it bluntly batters you down with them. But through its forceful approach, one can get lost in the timelessness of the narrative. As screenwriters, Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, and Cliff Dorfman adopt the narrative of Cain and Abel, toss in a Shakespearian sense of melodrama, and borrow from conventions of the genre (particularly from Rocky and On the Waterfront) to impressive affect.
At a rather lengthy140 minutes, Warrior admirably sets up its principal character arches with finesse. O’Connor’s concerns are more introspective, as he hopes to lay the groundwork of the problems that afflict a family and the method in which masculinity is defined. Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan represent opposing sides of a spectrum. Having left home with his mother, Tommy resents his father Paddy (Nick Nolte) for his alcoholism and disavows Brendan for sticking around with his girlfriend (and now wife). A lone wolf, Tommy’s recklessness and ambivalence toward violence wins him notoriety. His brother, however, is more calculating and looks upon his family for motivation. The two opposing arches serve to illustrate the divergent paths both men took in their life, with Paddy attempting to reconcile their differences that he essentially caused.
The very concept of a mixed martial arts tournament that eats up the final hour of Warrior almost serves as a contrivance to reunite a family. O’Connor took his time in developing the central conflict, whereas he seems to rush through fight scenes without much sense of their significance. He arbitrarily cuts between shots of the fight and reaction shots without establishing a greater sense of what the fight actually means. While Warrior’s conclusion is rarely in doubt, the odd pacing in which O’Connor adopts for the second half makes it feel as if the audience is watching two separate pictures.
Warrior could have benefitted from a more relaxed director. The script is a well-constructed piece of work, but the way in which O’Connor handles the material can feel a bit jarring. David O. Russell’s The Fighter dealt with a similar narrative framework, but managed to benefit from Russell’s fusion of traditional filmmaking with interesting visual cues throughout. Warrior’s ensemble cast trumps that of The Fighter, especially given the sense of naturalism they all achieve. But what begins as a promising work buckles when O’Connor can’t seem to get a handle as to how to present his screenplay visually.