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Film review: WARRIOR from Built for Speed

Movies about the fight game have become very clichéd beasts: there’s the tough but big hearted contender overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, the grizzled trainer dispensing heartfelt old school wisdom, family members having emotionally-tortured shouting matches, the grimy industrial locations and of course the training montages.  Cage fighting drama Warrior has all the clichés firmly in place although it’s set in the 21st century sport of mixed martial arts (mma) rather than traditional boxing.

Joel Edgerton stars as – believe it or not – a former mma fighter turned physics teacher who’s now struggling to make ends meet.  About to default on his mortgage and lose the family home, he sees a lucrative mma competition called Sparta as his only hope of acquiring the necessary cash. Unbeknown to him, his sullen, obnoxious ex-marine brother (Bronson’s Tom Hardy) has entered the same competition under the tutelage of their estranged and yes, grizzled father Nick Nolte.

There is virtually nothing unexpected in this film except that Joel Edgerton is actually really good. Believable as both mixed martial artist and physics teacher and a genuinely likeable lead, this is his best performance to date.  Tom Hardy is convincingly dislikeable as the angry hulking brother although some of his antics during the tournament are unrealistic and cartoonish.  Nick Nolte is the most clichéd character in the film but he’s such a magnetic screen presence that he’s still great to watch.  His bizarre drunken recitation of Melville’s Moby Dick is a bit much, though.  There’s a little too much time spent on the turgid family conflict but performances from these actors make it tolerable.

The fight scenes are reasonably impressive and realistic and demonstrate the diverse and intricate technique as well as the bone crunching brutality of mma.  This is not unexpected as legendary mma trainer Greg Jackson was the technical adviser on this film. 

While the fight scenes are well performed the filming is terrible, the camera jerks and flails all over the place and cuts at inappropriate times.  Because of the flurry of activity in mma, it’s much better to keep the camera as steady as possible, there’s no need to try and magnify the drama through hyperactive editing.  This visual approach also mars the all-important training montage as it lacks that rousing energy we see in the Rocky movies and doesn’t clearly show what the fighters are doing or how their skills are progressing.

Oddly, this film appears to recycle scenes, just have a look at the top fighter at Edgerton’s Gym, they just show him standing in the same spot with his gloves up any time he’s on camera.

This film has an entire wall of cousins in the cheapo section of the vid store so it’s a testament to the cast and director Gavin O’Connor (Pride and Glory) that Warrior stands up as a mostly credible and exciting look into the world of mixed martial arts.

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