‘Warrior’ is a film that could have easily been generic and uninteresting. It’s not a boxing movie (its sport is MMA instead) but it follows the boxing movie formula comfortably and certainly relies on a lot of the tropes of the genre that viewers will be familiar with. But instead of phoning it in, it embraces its characters and themes and becomes something much more.
The film crafts its big fight framework around a broken family played by Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, and Joel Edgerton, who have all been separated for years as a result of Nolte’s character’s alcoholism, which often led to physical abuse of his children and wife. The MMA sequences are legitimately nerve-wracking and finely choreographed (both in physical action and camerawork), but these three create a heart for the film that is remarkably moving and frequently breathtaking. ‘Warrior’ takes its thematic material head-on, unafraid to ask difficult questions about the nature of family in the face of tragedy, and is not content to give its audience easy answers. These characters are flawed and stubborn and all the more human because of it.
Each of these three actors takes to their roles with absolute conviction and the entire film shifts into a higher gear as a result. While the script is often strong, it struggles a bit at times due to an overabundance of plot elements. There are a handful of narrative threads here that get a little too much screen time, or might not be absolutely necessary in the first place. The film is not quite as tight as it could be. When it’s at its best, though (which it often is), ‘Warrior’ is unparalleled in the realm of the modern sports movie, delicately balancing its brutal fight sequences with an incredibly honest and moving portrait of a family struggling with its own demons.