With Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo; Running Time: 139 minutes; Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material); Written by Gavin O’Connor & Anthony Tambakis & Cliff Dorfman; Directed by Gavin O’Connor.
Imagine a world in which something called “mixed martial arts” fighting is the most important thing in the world. Everyone obsesses over it. News channels have bulletins with late-breaking news about those who do the fighting. In fact, everyone is desperate to know who will be the “middleweight champion of the world” in this field, and those who do the fighting are world-renowned celebrities.
If this sounds like science fiction, don’t fret. You can visit this bizarre and hyped-up world in the new movie WARRIOR, a bloated bit of hokum now lumbering onto local screens. It’s a movie that refuses to deal with the problem that sports films have. Usually who wins and who loses has to be dramatically satisfying and thus every match is, in effect, fixed. Instead of facing that problem, “Warrior” sets up a situation so contrived that there is no suspense in the film at all.
The story involves two brothers. Tommy (Tom Hardy) has come home to Pittsburgh to train for the mixed martial arts championship. He is estranged from his father (Nick Nolte), now a reformed alcoholic who agrees, nonetheless, to help him train. The other brother is Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a high school science teacher who is in danger of losing his home and decides to pick up money in quick fights. When he is suspended from school, he decides to go for the championship as well.
Of the sixteen contenders in this championship bout, only two will face each other in the final round. Even if you haven’t seen the poster featuring Hardy and Edgerton, it’s painfully obvious who the final two will be, especially after a scene where we learn the two brothers are estranged as well. In the meantime, we must endure scenes meant to define the various family conflicts that move at the speed of a glacier. It doesn’t help that Edgerton and Hardy are fairly inert, and Nolte gives the hammiest performance of his career as the ex-alcoholic father who has lost the love of both his sons. Only Frank Grillo, as a trainer who urges his fighters to “relax” and teaches them to pace themselves to Beethoven is the least bit interesting.
As for “mixed martial arts” fighting, it’s a real thing, but it is nowhere near the all-consuming passion depicted here. For those unfamiliar with it, it involves two fighters who engage in what amounts to a barroom brawl, with some vague rules separating it from absolute barbarism. One is allowed to punch and kick, and even beat one’s opponent after they’ve fallen. Apparently biting is against the rules. At least we see none here.
“Warrior” is slow, predictable, woodenly acted, and utterly preposterous. If you’re a fan of “mixed martial arts” bouts, you might forgive the film its flaws because it is validating your sport. That’s not an illegitimate reason for liking a film. However it doesn’t make this bad film good, and if you don’t think no-holds-barred fighting is a sport, there’s really no reason to see this at all.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.