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Warrior, MMA and the Existential Crisis

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Tommy (Tom Hardy, left) and Paddy (Nick Nolte, right) in WARRIOR. Photo credit: Chuck Zlotnick/used with permission
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It’s been a long time since a movie has caused so much of an existential crisis within me. I think the last time that happened was with The Matrix 2, and the crisis was actually the bruising of what little intellect I had due to the absolute inanity-laden philosophical assault it took. But with Warrior, I really had to wonder if I am just a contrarian just for the sake of it.

Tom Hardy plays Tommy, an AWOL marine (sound familiar Bloodsport?), who reunites with his father Paddy (Nick Nolte) after 14 years to train for the $5 million SPARTA tournament. Tommy has a brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) who is a physics teacher by day and, so he won’t lose his house because of the economy, a fighter by night. The SPARTA tournament is for the top 16 middleweight fighters, but miraculously both Tommy and Brendan are allowed in the field.

Paddy is a recovered alcoholic which is why Tommy and his mother left him. But Brendan stayed with Paddy because of a girl (now his wife) and because with Tommy gone Brendan might get some love from his father. Now sober, Paddy loves listening to Moby Dick on tape.

What I really didn’t understand is why a lot of people loved it. In the screening I attended, there were people cheering and laughing at the trite one-liners. The only part I found amusing was when I realized how much of Bring It On was in this film and thinking that perhaps Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku could have saved the film. But with almost everyone in the theater cheering, it really got me thinking if I was just a rebel without a cause.

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Then it got me thinking that maybe Lionsgate planted those people in the audience so they could possibly sway the opinions of anyone there who was going to review the film. But since I’m a pressbox veteran where cheering is strictly forbidden, I am impervious to this form of brainwashing. It set off a cycle where I have been reexamining every facet of my life for the past few days and wonder if I truly like what I like or am I influenced by my hypothetical contrarian nature.

Nonetheless, all of this internal turmoil didn’t detract from the fact that I didn’t like this film. It took itself too seriously when it was a derivative of many other films: the Kumite of Bloodsport; the media portrayal of Bring It On; the family problems of The Fighter or The Wrestler or whatever other fighting movie there is. It even started out with a jangly acoustic guitar lick backing up a Bob Dylan wannabe to tell the audience the film has depth.

Just so I’m not a complete Negative Nancy, the initial rounds of the SPARTA tournament was actually breathtaking (sans the ESPN announcers Bryan Callen and Sam Sheridan and their awful attempts at humor.) Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi saved the film with those scenes.

Perhaps the film was deep enough for people with bad tattoos who have a steady stream of Ed Hardy or Affliction t-shirts in their wardrobe since there was plenty of that to go around in the film. Perhaps I’m just being a pretentious contrarian. Perhaps I just wanted more from this film.

Dir: Gavin O’Connor. US. 2011. 139mins. Opens Sep. 9.