Yesterday I caught the first public screening (besides test screenings) at CinemaCon in Las Vegas of a new film from director Gavin O'Connor called Warrior. It's a drama starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as brothers and former MMA fighters who return to make a comeback in an MMA tournament called Sparta. We were actually the first website to break the news that O'Connor was working on this project nearly three years ago and now I'm more than happy to be the first website to tell you that this film is absolutely incredible. We're only just wrapping March, but Warrior is my favorite film that I've seen in 2011 so far.
As this was an early "unfinished" cut of the film (which is slated for release September 9th from Lionsgate) this isn't a formal review and I'm simply just voicing my initial reaction, because this movie really hit me hard (pun definitely intended) and I need to write about it. Maybe it was the complex yet beautifully crafted story about brothers, since I have an older brother whom I love dearly yet occasionally feud with; maybe it was the three impeccable lead performances; maybe it was all of that (and more) combined, because Gavin O'Connor has delivered his best movie to date and could even get some Oscar recognition as long as Lionsgate can craft a strong campaign this fall during its release.
Warrior also stars Nick Nolte as the estranged father of the two brothers. Like any truly fantastic screenplay, the film doesn't waste time unnecessarily explaining any backstory. It jumps in quickly as Tom Conlon (Hardy), a very reserved yet hard edged, doesn't-take-any-shit individual sits waiting on the doorstep of his father's home in Pittsburgh in the opening scene. It's the first time he's seen his father in 14 years and he wants nothing to do with him, as his mother died while he was away and there are hints of a very sordid past, since Paddy is a recovering alcoholic nearing 1000 days of being sober. But this is just the beginning, as we soon learn that Tom wants his father to train him as an MMA fighter once again.
Brendan Conlon (Edgerton) on the other hand has already distanced himself from his father, moving away from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, marrying his high school sweetheart (Jennifer Morrison) and starting a new life and family as a high school physics teacher. But due to the financial crunch, he decides to start fighting again, and the two brothers end up on similar paths which inevitably will converge at the climax. I won't say much more than that, as the experience of watching the story play out was exhilarating. I found myself completely lost in the film, sitting on the edge of my seat watching in awe during every fight and every emotional beat.
This is one of those films that really pulled me in and had me so invested in the characters that I was actually tearing up during multiple scenes because they were so emotional to watch. It's a bit odd to say that about an MMA film, but at the same time, the fights were energetic and powerful, some of the best MMA fights I've ever seen in a film. It would be cliched but completely appropriate to call this the Rocky of the modern MMA world and I hope that's the acclaim it continues to receive once it hits theaters this fall. An Oscar campaign is unquestionably in order as well, as Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy (especially) should easily be able to secure at least a nomination for their phenomenal performances.
I honestly can't say enough good things about Warrior. It's not a perfect film and Gavin O'Connor has plenty of time to continue to make tweaks in order to get even closer to that perfection, but to me it's already one of 2011's standouts. I've seen Tom Hardy in Bronson and Inception and love the actor, but in Warrior he really does give one of his greatest performances, one that will not soon be forgotten and will hopefully earn him some well-deserved awards acclaim. Beyond that, Warrior takes MMA fighting, typically a sport that only violence-loving people really enjoy, and wraps the fights around a wonderful dramatic story around two brothers each fighting for their own reasons.
If you haven't already, stop and add Warrior to your list of must see films in 2011. You're certain to hear plenty more about it as we near its release in September. I'm already anxious to see it again, as I know it may have an even greater impact once I see it in its finished form. There have been numerous boxing/wrestling movies over the last few years (Win Win, Redbelt, The Wrestler) but I think Warrior steps up to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those others and may even be better. I do know that at the very least, I have not seen a better movie in 2011 than Warrior, including everything I saw at the Sundance Film Fest.