Rattling the Cage Movie Review: Warrior

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 by Tony Reid

The movie is set, present day, in the iron and steel region of western Pennsylvania. We meet Paddy (Nick Nolte) a recovering alcoholic and over apologetic father to two men he obviously mistreated as children.  We first meet Tommy (Tom Hardy) who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to see his father but only in order to help him train to prepare for a future in mixed martial arts. As Paddy says at one point “The Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t know.” Tommy had left the house with his mother, as a child and has a deep seeded dislike, if not hatred, for the old man. The mother recently passed away and Tommy seems to enjoy a drink and some pills as much as his old man.

Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is the other son in more ways than one. He was the underdog, the one his father pushed aside as he helped Tommy’s athletic career in their younger days. He is a Physics teacher and a family man living near Philadelphia. But unbeknownst to the viewers (at least initially) Brendan is a UFC veteran, now fighting smokers outside of strip clubs to make some extra coin as his family’s home is about to go into foreclosure and his daughter’s medical bills are mounting.

As the movie progresses we learn of an upcoming MMA event called Sparta, a winner- takes- all $5 million tournament just a short time away. Tommy heads to his old gym that has a new look. He immediately jumps in with the top dog in the gym and promptly knocks him silly, gaining the attention and support of the trainers and managers at the gym. At the same time Brendan gets in hot water with the school administration where he teaches as his devoted students learn about his secret life as a fighter. He is suspended from teaching and turns to his old trainer (Frank Grotto) to train him full time to make money to keep the family afloat.

Tommy’s manager at the gym got him a spot in the tournament after he demolished his top fighter. At the same time Brendan gets a big break as his coach’s top fighter goes down with an injury, opening a spot in the tournament for him. Brendan is in the tourney but his wife isn’t. She, although very supportive, just can’t stand to watch him get beat on again and again.

Everyone involved heads to Atlantic City for the tournament. After much media attention it is known that Koba (Kurt Angle) is the man to beat. He is a Fedor-like unstoppable Russian fighter. During the press conference Brendan notices a familiar face from afar, you guessed it, his long lost brother Tommy, who really wants nothing to do with him. As the day goes on it comes out that Tommy was a Marine, a war hero who saved a number of lives while serving overseas. The brothers have an intense conversation on the beach the night prior to the fights, which leads them to the tournament with nothing figured out personally.

Its fight night and Tommy has become an internet sensation with videos of his beating of the highly ranked fighter from the gym and his wartime heroics, which was also caught on tape. Tommy is the first fight of the night and knocks out his opponent in mere seconds. Brendan then fights Midnight (Anthony Johnson) and true to the underdog role takes a beating early before coming back to sub Midnight. Brendan then takes on a fighter played by Nate Marquardt. Is it me or is he getting a horrible draw in the tourney? Anyhow, after more beatings he pulls off a great submission to advance. Tommy again demolishes his next opponent. The first night of fights is over and dear old dad is still trying to make amends with Tommy, but he’s having none of it. Tommy does some very hurtful things that push his dad over the edge… and off the wagon that night.

Night two of fight finds Tommy matched up against the guy he made his name off of in the gym, Mad Dog. He turns Mad Dog into a pound puppy in short order. Tommy (Tom Hardy) is played beautifully in this film. His very thinly veiled aggression and rage from his childhood outside the cage can be released in devastating fashion once locked inside the cage. He looks like a man posses because he is a man possessed. The next fight sees Brendan pitted against the unbeatable Koba. Again, Brendan takes a ton of punishment early but forges on, eventually pulling a miracle submission of the unbeatable Russian. Do you believe in miracles?

The final fight for all the marbles will pit brother against brother. We learn that Tommy was actually AWOL from his tour in Iraq and will be taken into custody immediately after the fight. After two rounds of aggression and domination by Tommy, Brendan starts to turn the tables. Brendan catches Tommy in a submission and tears his shoulder to hell to end the third round. Tommy refuses to tap and comes out in the fourth round a one armed fighter. Brendan shows some sympathy and yells for Tommy to give it up but Tommy will have none of it. Tommy looks like a wounded animal. It gets a little too weird and dramatic but only for a moment as Tommy is crying, face pressed against the cage and a look of utter helplessness in his eyes. They are circling talking to each other then Brendan goes for the kill with a headkick that rocks Tommy and Brendan follows him to the ground to finish with a rear naked choke, while telling his brother he loves him. A little odd but I get it; it’s a movie it’s supposed to be dramatic.

Overall, it was a very solid effort, something I am very happy to see when a movie is MMA centric because generally these films fall into all the traps, clichés and tired stereotypes already overused in the short history of the sport. The overall theme of three men fighting to keep a family together in a time of uncertainty within their homes and the world around them can be felt and appreciated by anyone watching the film. When the government, educational system, banks and all other establishments are failing these men they do the only honest, honorable thing that’s left. Go one on one, man to man in a cage where there are no excuses and no outside forces to alter the outcome. They control their own destiny. The fight scenes were very realistic and accurate, dare I say as real as it gets. The storyline was one that has been used in every genre of movies over time (brother against brother) but it worked very well in this instance. The main characters were fantastic, especially Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. The cameos by actual members of the MMA community were a nice touch as well. From the TapouT Crew, to Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt, Stephan Bonnar, Sam Sheridan and even Kurt Angle. I would give it 4 out of 5 fists…or stars…or thumbs up…or black eyes…or…you get the idea.

WARRIOR

Directed by Gavin O’Connor; written by Mr. O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman, based on a story by Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Dorfman; director of photography, Masanobu Takayanagi; edited by John Gilroy, Sean Albertson, Matt Chessé and Aaron Marshall; music by Mark Isham; production design by Dan Leigh; costumes by Abigail Murray; produced by Gavin O’Connor and Greg O’Connor; released by Lionsgate. Running time: 2 hours 19 minutes.

WITH: Joel Edgerton (Brendan), Tom Hardy (Tommy), Jennifer Morrison (Tess), Frank Grillo (Frank Campana) and Nick Nolte (Paddy).