Warrior 2011 Movie Review
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
A Broken Family Story
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
- Frederich Nietzsche
The simplicity of a title is enough to make one wonder what deeper meaning is tied to it. In the case of a film with the title Warrior, a lot of assumptions and questions can be pondered regarding what it truly means. Honestly, what does it mean to be a Warrior?
In the Spartan culture, which was known for its rather drastic forms of militarized socialization, the fact is that the age of 7 was the age all males were forced to test their physical and psychological endurance. This only speaks on the depths of what constituted a warrior. Director Gavin O’Connor’s family sports drama explores this notion through a much more dualistic lens.
There is no question that Warrior is a phenomenal film. Calling it a sports film, or as Bill Simons from “The Rewatchables Podcast” would declare: one of the best sports dramas of all time. One key factor from that episode of The Rewatchables Podcast was Simmons’ description of how it’s a sports film where you can’t really root for anyone.
After having revisited the film several times over the course of its recent ten-year anniversary, it’s that element of the narrative that grants it so much fortitude in comparison to other sports classics like Rocky, Chariots Of Fire, Field Of Dreams, or even the tear-jerking Million Dollar Baby.
Few sports dramas capture this element, and even fewer would be able to master it because when looking at the two sides in the space of massive competition, one form of bias or a simple manner of limited thinking will deny us the ability to truly appreciate the value both combatants bring to the story’s conflict.
In the case of the Conlon brothers, Brendan and Tommy (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy), both are characterized and empathized with enough to justify the choices they make in risking their lives and psychological health in order to win the grand prize every sports film is known for floundering before its underdog-like protagonist(s) to make sure the audience understands why they cannot fail.
Films like Rocky stand out for the romance with the underdog archetype. It’s a relatable quality considering how many talents in a multitude of areas are left unnoticed, unappreciated, and even mocked despite all the hard work they’ve put into the craft that is an extension of their being.
In the case of Warrior, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is the craft that Brendan and Tommy devout themselves to as a means of salvation, both financially and to a great extent, spiritually. One could argue that the ultimate goal of an underdog story is the victory they are striving for.
Another case to be made could very much be attributed to the psychological sense of their own self-acceptance. As great as it would’ve been to witness Sylvester Stallones’ iconic underdog hero defeat Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed back in 76, that was never the point of the character’s story. The point was being able to survive enough rounds to conquer the very demons he had brewing inside. Those same demons dwell within the characters of Brendan, Tommy, and even their father Patty Conlon (Nick Nolte) who is a recovering alcoholic.
On the surface, Warrior is a sports family drama centering on MMA, where two brothers go up against each other in an effort to win a five million dollar prize. Underneath though, the theme of redemption is what runs deep inside the identities of each of its central characters. Brendan, Tommy, and Patty all have their reasons for being in the Atlantic City tournament appropriately named Sparta.
Brendan is a high school teacher, who between him and his wife has three jobs as they struggle to get by financially in an effort to avoid eviction. Tommy is a battle-scarred vet looking to find a way to financially support the widow of his friend who served with him in the military. Patty is a recovering alcoholic eager to reconnect with the family his vices destroyed. The real battle goes beyond the cage, and any blows dealt out in the cage, are the result of the build-up that leads up to that explosion.
One of the most pivotal elements of the film, as with any sports drama is the concept of endurance, and what fun would be it be to talk about suffering and endurance if we didn’t bring up some good old-fashioned Nietzschean philosophy. Although brief, in one scene where Brendan visits his former mentor/fighting mentor Frank ( Frank Grillo), it becomes impossible to not notice the poster of the Wiley mustached philosopher placated on his office wall, and it was Nietzsche who said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost anyhow.”
Every inkling endured by the central characters in Warrior is a testament as to why a film like this can emotionally exhaust one to the point where the climactic final round between Brendan and Tommy makes them confront and even reflect on the suffering they are willing to endure.
This final confrontation, brutal as it is, manages to help both characters learn from their pain as opposed to simply allowing a hollow victory to serve as the ultimate end. If that isn’t the essence of a Warrior, then what is?
Andres Benatar is thepyrrhic.com resident film expert. You can hear him on the 'Cinema 237' podcast - A podcast for cinephiles.