PUBLISHED: 09:45 23 September 2011 | UPDATED: 09:45 23 September 2011
This is a film whose only innovation is to drop the definite article from its title. Its derivation is clear: this is to Mixed Martial Arts (cage fighting) what The Wrestler and The Fighter were to their sports.
Nick Nolte, as grizzled, ex-alcoholic coach Paddy Conlon, gets to deliver the line: “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.” Hardly an original insight – but his delivery gives it such an unexpected power that it sounds like a great line.
Likewise, Warrior is a cack-handed edifice made entirely of clichés which somehow works – a series of very cheap shots which convince you that it is a proper workout.
The film is being marketed as a Tom Hardy vehicle. In fact, he is the joint lead – estranged brother Tommy to Brendan (Animal Kingdom star Joel Edgerton).
The Conlons are a dysfunctional family who haven’t spoken to each other in more than 16 years. But they are brought awkwardly together in pursuit of a $5million, winner-take-all, world championship challenge. Standing between them, however, is the ferocious, unbeaten Russian, Koba (an unexpected Martin Amis reference).
Though much of it is shot in grimy, grainy colours to emphasise its integrity, the plot has been constructed without an iota of shame or restraint. It pummels you with absurdities.
The script spells out its themes so broadly that it might as well have had had a dolly bird walk across the screen between scenes with them written on a card held above her head.
Brendan begins as your everyday high school science teacher by day, cage fighter by night. “I’m The Underdog,” he bluntly tells the audience. Both brothers resume the sport and start training just weeks before the big tournament is to begin. It is worth remembering that even Sylvester Stallone refrained from having Rocky actually win in the first film.
Hardy is an extraordinary talent but is a little too straightforwardly mumblefish here – though still wildly charismatic. Edgerton gives his role a pug-faced, underdog tenacity reminiscent of Marky Wahlberg,
while Nolte rumbles away wondrously in a role which ought to be ridiculous.
It does for MMA what Rocky did for boxing. The question is, does MMA deserve its own Rocky? It is a grotesque spectacle, without even the fig leaf of showbusiness or nobility which wrestling or boxing have.
Its origins seem to have come from a group of lads seeing Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and deciding that these would be important life skills for the future.
What you see may only rate as a 12A level of brutality. But what you hear, the hideous bone-cracking blows, is certainly 18. This is a battle without honour or humanity.
Director: Gavin O’ Connor
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison and Frank Grillo
Length: 140 mins