I typically hate sports movies. I can't get past the fact that they're all so similar. A flawed character or team of characters always has to make a big change that cleans up one fatal flaw in order to make it to a single big game. Even though the character or team makes this huge change for the good, there are only three possible outcomes to the story: they never make it to big game, but it's okay because they’re better people now; they make it and lose, but again it’s okay because they're better people; or they make it and win, which happens more often than not. I don’t care if it's "Based on a True Story" or not, sports movies usually bore me to death. However, every once in a while, a strong, well-written sports film will offer more than the usual formula. Thankfully, and surprisingly, 'Warrior' is one of those films.
By definition, 'Warrior' is a sports film – but there's a lot more going on than just ultimate fighting (a.k.a. Mixed Martial Arts or MMA). 'Warrior' revolves around a father and his two sons. Because the majority of their story is shrouded in a slowly-unraveling mystery, I'll keep it vague.
The film opens as Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) comes home from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting one night to find his son Tommy sitting on the front steps of his house. Tommy has been gone for many years. When the violence from his drunken and abusive father became too much, he and his mother ran as far as they could. This is the first time that Paddy has seen Tommy since then. Although Tommy resents his father, he seeks his help in training for a major fighting tournament deemed "the Superbowl of MMA."
Tommy is also estranged from his older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton). The only things that Tommy and Brendan have in common are their abilities to fight and a mutual hatred of their father. Brendan has left his broken family behind and replaced them with a loving wife and two beautiful girls of his own, but times are tough for his own small family. He and his wife work three jobs between them just to barely stay afloat. When suspended from his job, Brendan aims for a long shot and unknowingly begins training for the same tournament that Tommy has entered. Both brothers have their eyes on the $5 million pot that goes to the winner.
'Warrior' is less about the tournament and more about the characters. Yet that doesn't mean the fighting moments aren't warmly welcome and abundant. Confrontation is just around the bend – both inside and outside the cage. As a single-elimination tournament, it's almost inevitable that the brothers will fight against one another. Despite what you might think, the film is also unpredictable. Tommy is a tool of blunt force, like a wrecking ball that drops everything in its path, and Brendan is a technique-savvy, high endurance machine.
Although 'Warrior' features a long 139-minute runtime, you'll never once check your watch. Not only does the movie completely engulf you emotionally, it never comes close to feeling long. I've avoided MMA fights for as long as they've been around. It's not my thing, but I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat during the fight scenes in 'Warrior,' almost cheering out loud for the fighter I wanted to win. Fantastic performances from Hardy (now I really can’t wait to see him play Bane in 'The Dark Knight Rises'), Edgerton (see 'Animal Kingdom' if you haven’t already) and Nolte give perfect balance to the emotionally-charged, fight-filled film.
Trust me on this. 'Warrior' is one of the most underrated films of the year. This is high quality entertainment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed 'Warrior' on a Region A BD-50 in an eco-friendly two-disc keepcase. Also included is a DVD version of the film and a code that unlocks an iTunes-only digital copy. The keepcase vertically slides into a gloss-less carboard slipcase. A load of pre-menu content plays before taking you to the main menu (Lionsgate's vanity reel, a commentary disclaimer and trailers for 'Brothers,' 'The Expendables,' 'Affliction' and 'Facing Ali'), but you can easily skip right past them.
'Warrior' has been given a truly shoddy 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encode presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Heavy amounts of digital noise are a nuisance for 60 percent of the film, so prepare yourself for 140 minutes of tragically annoying video.
From the opening shot it's evident that these mass amounts of noise – not film grain – are going to be a major issue. No matter what type of shot it may be: daytime, nighttime, dusk, indoor or outdoor, noise is always a factor. Just because the lighting may be natural or low in one scene, it doesn't mean that it's going to be a noisy scene. It pops up whenever and wherever it wants throughout the entire film. It's so much of a distraction that it nearly ruins the film.
Details are decent, but never as sharp as they should or could be. The hand-held shooting style causes a focusing issue that never quite reveals the strength of the film's detail and sharpness.
The movie itself carries a very heavy, dark color scheme with many scenes featuring a green hue. Just as thick and present as they were during the theatrical exhibition of 'Warrior,' shadows overwhelmingly chew up whatever lies within them. You'd expect the heavy blacks to be inconsistent, but they vary between inky and rich to a washed-out gray. Colors finally show up in full force when Tommy and Brendan arrive in Atlantic City for the competition. They're vivid and vibrant, relieving us from the overall green feel of the film.
'Warrior' is presented with two lossless English audio tracks – 7.1 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio – and an English 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track. While not perfect, the 7.1 audio quality is worlds better than that of the video.
The 'Warrior' soundtrack consists of solid score and tonally fitting music that fills the space and conveys the mood and feel of each scene. At the right times throughout the action of the film, it swells movingly and better immerses you in the picture - which is a big help considering how much the video quality pulls you out.
Also adding to the tone is the all-channel active use of non-stop surround effects. A train will honk here, a bird will chirp there. Rear channels are used just as often the the surround channels. During the televised cage matches it will sound like you're standing in the middle of a sea of constantly clicking cameras. Whenever our fighters enter the arena, there's an explosion of sound.
Despite the rough and thick back-east accents of our two heroes and all of the music and effects going on in the background, voices cut through the music and effects with perfectly understandable clarity. If this sound mix could have used one thing, it would be more bass. There isn't a single instance in the film that makes you recognize and appreciate the use of bass.
'Warrior' isn't the greatest sports film of all time, but it's leaps and bounds above the average ones that are generally pumped out year after year. What keeps it from being "just another fighting movie" is the intimacy you get with each of the main characters. This is a movie about real people, not just fighters. You care for them so much that you don't care who wins, you just want their issues resolved because they're both good people with noble causes for fighting. It's great that Lionsgate gave the film a fantastic 7.1 lossless audio track, but it's tragic that they couldn't have given the film a proper video transfer. The nearly non-stop noise is a constant distraction that pulls you out of the film. A few of the special features are great, but they ultimately needed to include more of our two principal actors. Give this film a rent.