Let’s face it – Rocky has been done to death! And yet its simple underdog tale gets routinely trotted out due to its unwavering success at moving audiences, most notably big manly men, to tears. Director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle) tries sprucing up the material by swapping out boxing for mixed martial arts, but it’s still the same old story told the same old way. At least Real Steel had robots.
Joel Edgerton (The Thing) and Tom Hardy (Inception) star as the Conlon brothers, Brendan and Tommy, estranged from childhood due to the fallout from their alcoholic father’s (Nick Nolte, Affliction) abusive relationship with their mother. Through the unimaginative stroke of a screenwriter’s pen, these two long-lost brothers end up in the same global martial arts tournament (to find the ultimate WARRIOR, of course) battling it out to save themselves and their loved ones. Brendan has a wife (Jennifer Morrison, House) and a sick child at home, whilst Tommy wants to support the family of a man who died beside him in Afghanistan. The $5mil prize money is obscenely large for what amounts to a bunch of kicking and punching, but who am I to argue?
O’Connor and his co-writers Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman are (hopefully) fully aware of how clichéd their story is, but I do question their sanity at churning out clanger after clanger of ridiculous, tinny dialogue. “Feel the Beethoven”, says one character to another as a method of fight preparation, seemingly oblivious to how laughable it sounds. Of course, laughing at the dialogue means it is at least decipherable, which is more than I can say for whenever Hardy opens his mouth. As if taking his cues from the Marlon Brando school of acting, Hardy’s jumbled mumbles reach their baffling climax midway through and he spends the rest of Warrior’s excessive 140 minute running time making barely audible garbles in the general direction of his cast mates. I suspect he and Nolte had an on-set bet to see who could get away with pretending to speak English for longer.
The martial arts sequences are bruising, bloody-knuckled encounters that, pardon the pun, pack a big punch, but discombobulating editing and excessive shaky cam numb the effect before long. Edgerton and Morrison are rather sublime as the working class parents brought to their knees, so it’s a shame the film didn’t want to focus on them solely, but instead had to insert the brotherly folly that was never going to go anywhere the audience couldn’t foresee from the get go. That Warrior is a film we’ve seen dozens of time before isn’t what makes it so disappointing, but the elements that should be alive and vibrant are instead lazy and flat.
Warrior is released in Australia on October 27th
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn and Denzel Whitaker