Today it’s the turn of another film in two halves. Is this becoming a trend? I seriously hope not, but if you see me renting The Parent Trap just put a bullet in my head.
If Rocky had a brother…
Two estranged brothers unknowingly enter the same winner-takes-all MMA tournament. Punching ensues. And kicking. And throwing, and knee-strikes, headbutts, arm bars, the odd suplex…
Ok that outline makes this sound like so much straight-to-video trash, probably starring Randy Couture and Scott Adkins but it is anything but. This is primarily a drama about the relationships these brothers have with their families and with each other, propelled by the two excellent performances by Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy. Just like in the movie this will mostly be compared to in years to come (take a wild guess), the fighting is just a backdrop to hang the real meat of the story on, which is the struggle for personal redemption and the reconciliation of a fractured family.
Edgerton plays Brendan Conlon, former inconsequential UFC fighter, now a high school physics teacher in Philadelphia with a wife, two young daughters and a mortgage that’s kicking his ass. He picks up some extra cash fighting wannabes in a strip club parking lot (while telling his wife he’s bouncing). This secret life is working out okay until he gets a black eye and the truth comes out. His school suspends him and his wife Tess seems more prepared to allow their house to be foreclosed on than for Brendan to fight again professionally. Suddenly with time on his hands and no other marketable skill, he returns to his old gym and talks his friend Frank into training him again and, eventually, putting him forward for the Sparta tournament to replace another injured fighter.
eanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Brendan’s younger brother Tommy (Hardy) is back in town 14 years after he left with his mother to get away from the boys’ abusive drunk of a father. After his mother died, Tommy joined the Marines and served in Iraq, He is using his mother’s maiden name Riordan as his surname to distance himself from his father, Paddy, but the first place he goes when he arrives is to the old family home. Paddy – a deservedly Oscar-nominated Nick Nolte – has turned his life around in the last few years. He has found God and is coming up on 1000 days sober. His only addiction left is to his Moby Dick book-on-tape that is a recurring motif throughout the film. Tommy doesn’t care about his old man, but he has found out about the Sparta tournament and wants Paddy to train him just like when Tommy was a high school wrestling champ. As he says, being a trainer was the only thing Paddy was any good at when the boys were growing up.
Of course anyone with even a passing awareness of sports movie conventions (or if you’ve seen the trailer) knows that these two will end up in the ring together by the climax, but both actors are so compelling that for the first time ever in a fight flick, I didn’t want either one of them to lose. Of the two, Tommy would be the more showy part. He never becomes a pantomime though, thanks to Hardy’s sensitive portrayal of a man who spends his whole life as a coiled spring of anger and resentment and bitterness. His impressive bulk just adds to the picture. If you thought Hardy was big in Bronson, that was nothing. He looks like he has been fighting his entire life. Brendan is a bit less physically imposing than his little brother, as befits his day job and respectable life, but he can still handle himself. Both actors completely convince when it comes to the fights; Edgerton probably more so, since Brendan has to work harder to win. When Tommy is in the ring he is a storm of violence that takes out his opponents in seconds, but – prior to the big finale – the most intense fight is Brendan against the undefeated Russian Koba, played by WWE/TNA wrestler and Pittsburgh boy Kurt Angle.
This really is a film of two halves, focusing on each of the brothers equally and individually. They don’t even see each other until we get to Atlantic City for the tournament, and they only share one scene together before the final fight itself. What a scene it is though. Played out late at night on a deserted AC beach, Tommy finally lets out 14 years’ worth of resentment for, as he sees it, Brendan’s abandonment of him and their mother in favour of his then girlfriend (now wife) Tess, while Brendan reacts with shock and sadness and incredulity. If either Hardy or Edgerton had been nominated, this scene would have been the Oscar clip, no doubt about it.
Warrior was one of the “wish I’d seen it” selections in my Top 11 of 2011 list, and now that I have seen it I can tell you that it would have shot up that Top 11 like a bullet. It is a fantastic film that observes all the clichés of the fight flick genre as valid story points, but still manages to bring real heart and compassion to the human drama.