In Defense Of...Warrior

In Defense Of...Warrior

"In Defense Of..." is a series of posts spotlighting the overlooked, underappreciated, and unfairly maligned movies of our time. Films given the "In Defense Of" treatment so far include The Next Three Days, Multiplicity, Speed Racer, Meet Joe Black, Alfie (2004), MacGruber, The Island, The Cable Guy, and The Last Castle.

BY MATT CAMPOBASSO, special guest contributor to Hammervision

What if I gave you the choice of watching one of the two movies described below?

1.  A gritty, unflinching sports film centered around the world of mixed martial arts (“MMA”) and, specifically, an MMA tournament, dubbed the Sparta, where elite athletes from around the globe come to battle in hopes of walking away with the grand prize of $5 million.   Within this grand spectacle of strength and toughness is the story of two very different fighters, one a former member of the United States armed forces and, the other, a school teacher trying to make ends meet, the only way he knows how, for his wife and small children.  One is the very definition of a back-alley brawler who decimates opponents with a single punch and the other can take a punch like no other and wears his opponents out with his lion’s heart.  Will their different, yet equally effective approaches to the world of MMA mean glory and a $5 million payday for one of them?  Only time will tell.
OR
2. A heart-wrenching look at a family torn apart by alcohol and an inability to deal with the demons of the past.  One father, a former alcoholic, and his two adult sons, one a family man and another a nomad without any connections to the modern day world.  The father is estranged from both sons and the sons from each other.  One son, faced with his abusive father and forced to choose between his dysfunctional family or starting a family of his own that branched out on his own.  The other son who took his mother far away from his abusive father only to watch her succumb to a battle against cancer.  The three men, each damaged in their own way, are trying to find a way to move forward in their lives while struggling to pick up the pieces of a shattered past.
Both sound like a pretty good way to spend two hours, right?  A Sophie’s Choice of sorts?  Well, today is your lucky day because you don’t have to choose.  Both of these plots can be found in in the overlooked and underappreciated 2011 film, Warrior.  It stars Nick Nolte as Paddy Conlon, the former alcoholic father of two who is struggling with his sobriety and trying to mend long broken relationships with his two adult sons.  It also stars Joel Edgerton as Brendan Conlon as a family man and teacher who is forced to put his life and family at risk by fighting for a few hundred dollars in local MMA fights at neighborhood bars.
Lastly, we have Tom Hardy as Tommy Conlon, a former US serviceman who returns from war angry and ready to destroy anyone and anything that life puts in his way.  Warrior chronicles the lives of the three Conlon men as they navigate the world of MMA and struggle to rebuild the family bonds that were demolished so many years ago.  What could have ended up being a formulaic and by-the-numbers look at the world of MMA or just another story about a family that struggles to work through its problems ends up being a masterpiece that manages to appeal to both the spectator and the humanist inside of each of us.  Just as we find ourselves hungry for yet another fight and to see which of the Conlon boys can gut out another much-needed win, director and screenwriter Gavin O’Conner switches things up on us and gives us a dialogue-heavy scene between our main characters that simultaneously reveals the dark family history and instills the hope of better days that may lie ahead for the Conlon family.
As if the compelling story and incredible acting (with Nolte giving the performance of his career) weren’t enough, the film begins and ends with two songs by The National.   The film begins with the fittingly-titled track “Start a War” and ends with the even-better “About Today.”  As I sit and write this, I am listening to “About Today” and replaying the climactic final scene in my head.  Although I watched Warrior last week on a cross-country flight, I may just have to watch it again this week.  In a day where new movies are seemingly released every single day, it should say a lot that I have seen Warrior four times since it was released just two years ago.
This film has been described by critics as “heartbreaking and emotionally satisfying” and as “an unapologetic powerhouse of emotional conflict.”  The film, which has also been described as a “rousing ode to redemption, reconciliation and the power of the human spirit”, won me over the first time I saw it and has held up over the course of repeat viewings over the past few years.  I truly hope you will check it out and give Warrior a chance to entertain you while dealing with themes of forgiveness and the bonds of family.
Matt Campobasso is a dad of two, brother, son, die-hard Cubs, Bears & Bulls fan, movie and television fanatic, lawyer, writer, and cross fit-ter.  You can read more of his thoughts on all of those things on Twitter: @MCampobasso

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