Thus far, in terms of cinematic offerings, we’ve had such gems as “Never Back Down”, “Never Back Down 2”, “Fighting” and “Red Belt”, each one an attempt to bridge the gap between the celluloid world and real combat. And of course, each one failed miserably. But the inevitable renaissance of MMA filmmaking – when a director and concept come together as one to create something not crap – has arrived. Last night I attended an advance private screening of the film “Warrior”, starring Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, and much to my surprise, it was very much not crap. It was, in fact, awesome.
Said “awesomeness” is made apparent in the opening scene, when Paddy Conlon, a former wrestling coach and recovering alcoholic (played by Nolte), comes home to find his estranged son Tommy (played by Hardy) sitting on his doorstep. There’s history there, pain-filled history glossed over by cold rage and time, and we are spoon-fed none of it. What we get instead are hints, flashes of emotion and kickass dialogue – traits that pervade throughout the film.
Ultimately, Tommy asks his father to train him for an upcoming sixteen-man MMA tournament called “Sparta”, with the presumption that the $5 million in prize money would go to the widow of Tommy’s Marine Corp buddy killed in Iraq. Who else populates the tournament in Atlantic City? A Fedor-esque Russian named “Koba” (played by Kurt Angle), a top middleweight named Mad Dog (played by Erik Apple), Nate Marquardt and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (pretending to be scrubs), and none other than Tommy’s older brother, Brendan. It seems Brendan made it into the UFC at one point, but he has since become a schoolteacher and family man in desperate need of cash for his mortgage payment.
If your cliché-o-meter is going off now, ignore it. Hardy – who starred in “Inception” with Leonardo DiCaprio and who is slated to be a villain in the next Batman flick – portrays Tommy as a complete and utter douche, albeit one with knockout power in his fists and unyielding toughness. Nolte, who was nominated for an Academy Award for “The Prince of Tides” back when you were in grade school, makes Paddy into a fragile and repentant old man, and together the son and father provide some of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes. And when the tournament unfolds, it is (aside from one bit of officiating fantasy) believable.
Brothers Gavin and Greg O’Connor are the director and producer behind “Warrior”, and as it was their capable hands that put together the acclaimed 2002 HBO documentary “The Smashing Machine” (which followed the rise and fall of UFC and Pride fighter Mark Kerr), it only makes sense that MMA’s first real movie come from them, as they know the sport.
The film is slated for wide release in September, Lionsgate is the distributor, and I highly recommend it. We’ve had crap for MMA movies so far. “Warrior” is not crap.