As I mentioned when I reviewed The Fighter back in February, it still surprises me how the underdog/redemption/fighting formula made so famous by the likes of Rocky, Raging Bull and The Champ oh so long ago still manages to be the stuff of box office quality. Maybe it's because in sport we sometimes naturally want the underdog to win, maybe they appeal to the human side of us all in some quest for redemption and triumph, or maybe...just maybe we simply like to see two brilliant actors kick the stuffing out of each other. The latest in this very long list comes Warrior starring two of Hollywood's brightest acting talents, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton.
Playing brothers separated during their teenage years, the film tells the dual narrative of how Hardy's Tommy and Edgerton's Brendan reunite in the confines of a MMA ring. Tommy the estranged, enigmatic and emotionally suppressed ex-Marine and Brendan the struggling, down to earth, high school teacher trying to support his family and keep their house by whatever means necessary.
I'll be honest beside changing the bloodsport from boxing to MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) it isn't at all original, especially as you only need to look to the Oscar winning triumph of The Fighter literally months earlier to see insanely striking similarities - hell watch the trailer and the film is essentially told from beginning to end there. Where Warrior manages to succeed however is in the brilliant performances from both its leading men.
I know a lot has been made about Tom Hardy's training regime in the build up to this film, with faint conjuring's of Robert De Niro's turn in Raging Bull mentioned from time to time. His stature though is probably no less impressive than when he blew audiences away with his portrayal of Charles Bronson back in 2009. Though Tommy lacked a true heart the audience could get behind, Hardy brought real soul to the role. A very flawed and in some ways a very tragic human being who shared very tender and emotional scenes with his father played by an astute Nick Nolte - who has a scene stealing moment with Hardy involving a bottle of whiskey and an audiobook of Moby Dick.
Whereas Hardy was this emotionally suppressed Goliath who destroyed any fighter in his path, Joel Edgerton however was the underdog, full of grit and heart, everyone could get behind. He struggled to beat his opponents, he fought with every last breath he had left, and in these moments every emotional string was pulled to the desired effect. Unlike in 2010's Brothers starring Toby Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal where I felt the two actors could've had more screen time together, in Warrior the build up and anticipation to the first meeting between the stars was smartly done and really heightened the intensity during their final encounter.
Director, Gavin O'Connor should also take credit for the way he presented the story without turning either characters into true protagonists or antagonists. He delivered on balancing the backgrounds of both brothers, their relationships with the people in their lives and the strained relationships they have with both their father and themselves. I'd even say it had more pace and cinematic panache than David O Russell's The Fighter, albeit with less of a HBO edge to it.
Warrior goes pound for pound with such greats that inspired it such as Rocky, Raging Bull, The Fighter and The Champ and nearly comes out on top. Boxing analogies aside, it's simply an entertaining film, full of likeable performances which by the time the curtain falls will have you at odds over who you really wanted to win. Even if it doesn't live long in the memory as a cinematic classic, it should serve a reminder that Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are quickly becoming two of Hollywood's most versatile and creditable leading men. One for the lads.
Warrior is in cinemas everywhere now.