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Warrior (2011): Family, Forgiveness, and Fighting MMA

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

Estranged brothers, Tommy Riordan and Brendan Conlin, both find out about an MMA open tournament with a purse of $5 million. Tommy, a U.S. Marine, decides to join in an attempt to repay a friend who saved his life when overseas. Meanwhile, Brendan, a former UFC Fighter now physics teacher, joins in an attempt to pay off debts he owes the bank before losing his house, leaving him and wife and kids homeless. What started out as a tournament to win a lottery size cash prize, turns into two siblings on a collision course with destiny.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect of this film. The film is directed by Gavin O’Connor who also directed the sports drama Miracle. I guess I expected something schmaltzy and by-the-book in order to elicit tears from the audience or cheers. While he does get this, they feel whole-heartedly earned in every way; as the struggle between brothers runs heartbreakingly deep. Tommy Riordan is the younger brother who left with his mother in order to save themselves from being continuously abused by his alcoholic father. It was revealed that Brendan was supposed to leave with his brother and mother, but decided to stay because he fell in love with his high school sweetheart. Each brother has understandable motivations for their strained relationship with both their father and each other, which makes their final fight against each other both relatable and devastating. It stopped becoming a fight for money and became a fight for forgiving the sins of the past.

I also have to admit that the three main leads really stand out in their performances. Tom Hardy is my personal favorite as Tommy Riordan, as he held onto anger and resentment to his brother and father as both seemed to abandon at a young age; either physically and/or emotionally. Joel Edgerton really sells the desperate father with nothing but love in his heart, just trying to find the money to save his family from debt and homelessness. It also helps that the chemistry between Hardy and Edgerton is believable as brothers. Their bond may be strained but the love is palpable. I also have to give credit to Nick Nolte playing their recovering alcoholic father, as he is genuinely trying to turn over a new leaf but both of his sons are extremely hesitant to let him in completely due to past trauma. What is even sadder is how much pain he’s in when neither son forgives him immediately but how patient and supportive he is being to both of them in an attempt to receive forgiveness.

The fight choreography is extremely beautiful throughout the film. You can feel every hit being dished out either by Tommy and Brendan or one of their opponents. It truly helps define each character as a whole too. Brendan is a more strategic fighter while Tommy is a brute strength brawler. While both methods are effective, the fights let it show how far rage and hate get you in a fight, so you have to use your aggression smartly and not just go full force. The fight choreography along with the performances allows us to feel both the desperation and hope some characters have when they fight. That hope and desperation is particularly evident during the Brendan vs. Koba fights, where both hope and desperation allow for Brendan to win with a hail mary knee bar. You can see in Brendan’s face that it is causing him as much pain as he is giving Koba but he won’t back out until it's finished, even having his coach plead with Brendan to break the hold.

This is one of those man’s movies that help men be alright with showing vulnerability, while giving us a good cry in the process. Its themes of forgiveness and brotherly love are extremely powerful and relatable to anyone who has had a rivalry with someone they call their brother, blood related or not. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton carry the film with their charismatic and relatable performances as they mend old wounds and fight for their own families. Meanwhile, Nick Nolte does a great job being the emotional core of the film as he sets many of the events into motion. Not to mention Gavin O’Connor’s fantastic and empathetic direction to the script, as no punches are pulled throughout the film. This is a film that can be enjoyed with the boys or with the family. Just make sure you have a box of tissues on hand.

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