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David Poland

By David Poland

Excited Utterance: Warrior

Midway through Warrior, I thought, “This is what The Coens once called ‘a Wally Berry wrestling movie,'” but it was a really good Wally Berry wrestling movie.

But by the time the film was over, it was apparent that this is the Wally Berry wrestling movie that Barton Finke wished he could write.

I fear that I might damn this movie with too much praise. Rocky meets On The Waterfront.

Putting aside the magic of each fight being done in such a stylized way in Raging Bull, this is easily the best photographed fight movie I have ever seen… shot by a first time lead Cinematographer.

With great credit to the director, the screenwriters, and the DP, I have never seen any up-close action film – especially one in a sport I know nothing about – that was so clear and easy to follow, scene after scene after scene. I was never confused by any of the action. I knew where the characters were and what they we doing, how they were trying to adjust in the moment, etc. Amazing.

Oscar nominations for Nick Nolte, who could win a lifetime achievement Oscar for this great performance, and probably Tom Hardy, who has the more Brando-esque brother role. But this could become an across-the-board nominee. Picture, director, cinematographer, editor, sound, score, and at least two acting nods, Joel Edgerton certainly another possibility. Hardy is all the things many of us felt he was. Nolte is 100% on his game. In a weird way, this role is a variation of his role in Ang Lee’s Hulk… except this one effectively does all the things that one didn’t quite make work. Edgerton has the hardest role, as the sanest family member.

This should be a hugely commercial movie, given the genre, grossing in the mid-100s, I believe women will be on the edge of their chairs along with the men. If that happens… and critics embrace what could have been a simple genre picture… Best Picture is not an unrealistic goal.

Gavin O’Connor has made himself, with his collaborators, to fighting what Chris Nolan is to superhero movies. Nolan brought an intellectual rigor and darkness to Batman. O’Connor brings arthouse intimacy to a movie that also works exceptionally well as a genre experience.

Simply, Warrior is the movie that The Fighter wasn’t. It’s a great fight movie, even if you, like me, could not care less about Mixed Martial Arts. But it also plumbs the emotional depth in a way that The Fighter really focused on doing, but never quite did. The characters were too big and there just wasn’t room for the intimate moments, especially with Dicky, who was never really accessible enough to get to that level of intimacy. Warrior would rather say nothing than show off. And I felt it. Hard.

By the end of the film, you reach the inevitable action film culmination… though the writers rather brilliantly take the whole thing somewhere utterly unpredictable that also makes completely sense for all the characters. But beyond the genre, the family story comes together completely at the same time. These three men are completely a reflection of their histories and they have arrived at their destiny.

I expect some critics to bridle against the emotion of the film. But that will be their loss.

I’m going to stop now. I’ll be revisiting the film again… and surely, again. Blown away. It was, in many ways, like Soderbergh and Sheridan combined at their best. And I didn’t see it coming from Gavin O’Connor.

God, it’s great to fall in love with a movie!

36 Responses to “Excited Utterance: Warrior”

  1. Hallick says:

    I’m getting stoked to death by the reports on this one. If the movie really catches fire and gets the kind of nominations and wins that you’re talking about, can you imagine the level of buzz for “The Dark Knight Rises”?

  2. David Poland says:

    I hope Dark Knight Rises is as good… but it is still likely to be more of a genre piece than an awards piece… or maybe this is the time.

    And I didn’t hand anyone an Oscar or even a nomination for Warrior. But it has the potential to be that.

  3. anghus says:

    wow. surprising. i didnt expect much. i love a good fight movie but the MMA ones have been kind of cocky, testosterone beat em ups.

    My problem with the Fighter was that i didnt like anybody. The most likable character in the movie had the most bland personality. While i admired the acting, i found myself repelled by their abrassive personalities.

    The best fight movies, no matter how good or bad, has someone to root for. Rocky was a big, dumb slab of meat. But he had a good heart. You couldnt help but like the lug. Christian Bale was fascinating to watch in The Fighter, as was Melissa Leo. Mark Wahlberg was supposed to be the heart of the movie, but he ended up being nothing more than the most likable guy in a movie full of really frustrating characters.

  4. scooterzz says:

    i was okay with the film as a whole but only if i don’t think about it too much…the fight scenes were good but i thought the script was just a mess…imo, nolti’s oscar bid went out the window with that strange final shot…i really thought the lead’s best performance was on the one-sheet and the most impressive person in the movie was jennifer morrison….
    waaaaaaaaay too many ‘daddy issues’ to take this seriously for me…..

  5. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:
  6. Krillian says:

    I agree with JBD’s Buster Keaton quote.

  7. Joe Leydon says:

    David: Agree with you 100 percent. And I’m going to be very careful phrasing this — don’t want to give anything away — but wouldn’t you agree that the ending is dead solid perfect in an emotionally and dramatically satisfying fashion, no matter who you’re rooting for?

  8. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    I can’t speak for everyone but it seems like this movie kind of came out of nowhere. I vaguely remember reading about it as Hardy heated up after Inception, but it quickly faded away. The glowing reviews are a real surprise. Until this week I didn’t realize it is being released in 3 weeks. Considering the praise, is the studio doing enough to get the word out and generate some buzz?

  9. djiggs says:

    To paraphrase LexG, my ticket is stamped for this movie because it has Kurt Angle POWER!!!!

  10. MovieGuyBrian says:

    Glad someone’s finally talking WARRIOR, David – great write up! Saw it last week, was blown away and can’t stop telling anyone I come in to contact with about it (as my official review won’t go up until 9/9). It’s like watching ROCKY with two Rockys, two people to cheer for. The layers of the charcater onions were each peeled back perfectly. And I, too, called the Nolte nom the second credits started to role. He’s a lock for a nom. Seeing it again this week. Oh yeah, long time reader and so on – keep up the great work!

  11. yancyskancy says:

    I believe I first heard of this movie yesterday, when I clicked the “Coming Soon” button on a local theater’s website. Thought maybe it was some John Cena flick till I saw Hardy.

    Krillian: Yeah, that’s a great Buster Keaton quote. From BATTLING BUTLER, right?

  12. chris says:

    I wish I could share your enthusiasm for it (I found the weirdly-constructed script a huge problemo), but it’s cool you’re so stoked! And I share your excitement about fall movies and their potential.

  13. David Poland says:

    I rather loved all the unusual choices of the script, Chris. The concentration of the many 3rd act fights worked for me and much as I love Diggstown – and I really do – never turned into schtick for me.

    And for me, Hardy’s character’s inability to move emotionally in steps, just inches and partial inches at a time, felt iffy at first and then, an undeniable choice.

    There were so many great fight movie cliches that were unavoidable, but were done so subtly, each of those moments of “oh, that’s what that is” was fun for me.

    In fact, as one point, for maybe five minutes, I was a cliche I was waiting on, happily… and it just wouldn’t happen. Eventually it did, kind of, and the satisfaction of it was, for me, as much the drama of the film as that it transcended the cliche.

    And as scooterzzz says, it’s a daddy issue movie. But for me, it wasn’t my daddy issues. But I completely got the power of those relationships. And as terse as they were, they are distinctly different between both sons and the old man.

  14. Geoff says:

    Damn, I want to see this! It’s hard not to reference TDKR, but wow….to think that Hardy might have HALF the buzz going into that that Ledger did going into TDK would be an accomplishment.

    You know, I found Nolte to be pretty solid in Hulk – how else could he have played it? When people bash him for that movie, I think they’re thinking more of the poodles he brought or the cheesy effects in the climax, but none of that was his fault….

  15. chris says:

    No matter what, I think Hardy is brilliant in it. It’s another inarticulate thug, but he’s nothing like he was in “Bronson.” Or, for that matter, in anything else he’s done. I’m starting to wonder if there’s a role I WOULDN’T believe him in.

  16. berg says:


    not to be a naysayer because I really liked this film but the ending does pile on some stretches of the imagination. Plus there’s a hearty sequel where Hardy goes on trial military style. The sequence where Nolte goes off the wagon was my favorite …

  17. NickF says:

    It’s like I’ve been brow beaten into watching this movie at some point. Every movie I saw this summer had this trailer in front of it.

  18. LexG says:

    Weirdest thing about BOTH LEADS in this (which looks AWESOME despite being another Pittsburgh-shot cheapskate production) is Hardy and Edgerton have Michael Fassbender Syndrome, by which I can NEVER remember what they look like facially, and they never look the same twice in any movie or picture.

    Just as how Fassbender goes from Kim Coates to Cole Hauser to Howdy Doody to Darren Aronofsky from one camera angle to the next, I couldn’t pick either of these guys (ESPECIALLY Hardy) out of a police lineup, even after seeing them in multiple movies.

  19. Joe Leydon says:

    Something a lot of people forget about Nick Nolte: Long before he became a highly visible hot property thanks to Rich Man, Poor Man, he made his bones in regional theater doing everything from Luther to A Thousand Clowns. He has been a great actor for a long time but, alas, he doesn’t always have the chance to strut his stuff. I wish a lot more people had seen him in Olivier Assayas’ Clean — because he deserved an Oscar nomination for that.

  20. Monco says:

    I’m always skeptical of this kind of hyperbolic praise, however since I was blown away by the last movie DP praised like this (Never Let Me Go) consider me amped to see this one. Oh, and TDKR is not gonna need any more hype leading to it’s release. It’s the most anticipated big budget event film since The Phantom Menace.

  21. Krillian says:

    Another reason to see Warrior: it makes up for Nolte being involved with Arthur.

  22. Joe Leydon says:

    Krillian: We all do things to pay the rent. Today I received advance copies of Leonard Maltin’s 2012 Movie Guide — and I am not ashamed to admit that I am feeling a bit proud right now as I page through it and note that, for the fourth consecutive edition, my mini-reviews are part of the mix. Along with my amazing son, my contributions to Variety, and the students I teach at UH and HCC — these may be my most substantial bids for immortality. I hope they balance out the stuff I have done just to pay the bills.

  23. scooterzz says:

    where the hell is rollo tomasi?

  24. LexG says:

    Probably hanging out with his jerkoff art-stoner buddies at the inaugural meeting of The Only People Stupid Enough to Think There’s Any Legendary Lore About Boring Dork “Lex” That’s Interesting Enough For Anyone to Give a Fuck About (But Boy is Greg Siff a Dope Artist) Club

    Seriously, unless I’m legitimately schizophrenic and have a drag queen girlfriend and a drug empire I don’t know about (I’d likely be a whole lot less bored and depressed were that the case), there’s no SKELETON in my closet that anyone on this fucking planet would find entertaining or salacious.

  25. jesse says:

    Oh, also, apparently the AMC “Stubs” program (their frequent-moviegoing card that replaced Moviewatcher; they charge for it, but I grudgingly admit it’s probably worth it if you see a ton of movies) is doing a sneak preview of Warrior on 8/31 in a bunch of cities. You can Google around to find the details. I’ve seen this trailer SO MANY times, and it looks so fucking boring, and includes such cheesy dialogue (“this is impossible! the two men fighting for the championship tonight… ARE BROTHERS!”) that I had little interest in checking it out. But for free, and with a DP rave, I’ll give it a shot.

  26. cadavra says:

    Speaking of SKELETONS, today is the first anniversary of the DVD release of both THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN and DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. If you haven’t bought both of these yet, quit wasting your dough on crappy movies and go get the good stuff!

    This week’s shameless plug is brought to you by the letter $.

  27. LYT says:

    Wow. Maybe David’s review gave me unnecessarily high expectations for WARRIOR but I was seriously underwhelmed. It’s certainly nowhere near THE FIGHTER for me…and I do care about MMA. Happy there’s a major film taking it seriously. Just wish that film didn’t have so many obvious flaws.

  28. David Poland says:

    Maybe people who loved The Fighter and people who love Warrior do not mix. ???

  29. LexG says:

    Eeee… It is with the HEAVIEST of hearts that I have to concede I was pretty let down by this, even though I think it’s solid overall.

    It’s weird, I have some familial “issues” that are relatable to this movie, and was expecting to be weeping on the floor in all the Nolte scenes. But, strangely, I felt minimal emotion throughout. Something is just ODDLY structure about this– there’s no second act or something, no training montage with Nolte, and the first meeting of Hardy and Edgerton mid-movie is hardly a De Niro/Pacino worthy culmination.

    Also I am putting forth the apparently minority theory that Tom Hardy is a RIDICULOUS actor, is a HAM, and is REALLY annoying and borderline AWFUL in this. Not rootable, not likeable, just a stone ASSHOLE from moment one… Edgerton is SOLID GOLD, though, and I was loving the first 40m or so…

    Then there’s NO MONTAGE, no training, just this TERRIBLE four-panel deal with no Nolte, then it goes right into MMA Sparta contest.

    Not being an MMA fan, really, I never understood the rules, never knew what the FUCK Edgerton was going for in his fights… Looked like he was getting his ass kicked up and down the cage in every bout, then he’d lift a foot and somehow pull a win every time. Kurt Angle is amusing, but there’s not much pacing or sense of the progression to the top… Fucking OVER THE TOP had a clearer sense of disparate competitors and how the lead was making his way through the tournament. Here’s like Hardy, Edgerton and some also-rans til the final four.


    Other than Nolte, I don’t know what everyone thinks is getting nominated here, other than Most Nonexistent Second Act or Most Baffling Slow Reveal of Character Development.

    I think I liked Shark Night better.

  30. Not David Bordwell says:

    Lex, I know I’m risking the ire of the “you’ll just encourage him” crowd, but the shit you just pulled off on Glenn Kenny’s site: AWESOME. MASTERFUL. I BOW.

    I have no idea how many people have ever read a preachy Jonny Rosenbaum review in the Chicago Reader or wherever and thought, “what the fuck? What a DICK,” but I can guaran-fucking-tee you not one of these people ever had the balls to call him a pussy to his (online) FACE.

    And the fact that he thinks he just PWNED you makes it all the more glorious. “P.S. Who ever said I don’t ever harbor any revenge fantasies? Not me. Au contraire. I’ve just tried to fulfill one.”

    You know, I think he actually speaks French, Lex. The better to be down with the revolutionaries in like, Cambodia and shit. I’d watch my back.

    Hats off, SRSLY.

  31. LexG says:

    Of course he speaks French.

    Per his Wiki, he moved there in 1969. Wonder why.

  32. Not David Bordwell says:

    I’m not kidding, Lex, I wish I could get someone of that caliber to even notice me, much less attempt to put me in my place.

    But the guy has to have a pretty thin skin to thank other commenters for defending him against your straight thuggin.’ I suspect his ego is… fragile?

  33. LexG says:

    Just rewatched the WARRIOR trailer; Weird how the TRAILER packs an emotional wallop that is almost nonexistent in the cold, weirdly structured movie.

    Seriously, they needed to contact Stallone to show them how to build a montage.

    He’d at least hook them up with some better, more rousing music. What’s that ABSOLUTELY MISERABLE song that drones on during the otherwise riveting final fight?

  34. LexG says:

    BUMP for Actionman!

    Seriously, WARRIOR kinda BLOWS, is BORING, and Hardy is GOD FUCKING AWFUL. Biggest letdown in forever.

  35. margo gary says:

    Wow. LexG, et al., if Warrior gets no love at the box office, it’s because, despite Tim Palen’s strategic promotion, guys like you didn’t see the same movie I did — and your whiney word-of-mouth will quite possibly keep away many people who would love this film. Are you being a bit precious? Get over yourselves.
    Warrior has top-notch acting. Flat-out. It’s the Hardy-Edgerton-Nolte-Morrison-Grillo combine that lifts this from a sports themed movie to a brilliant film. Maybe that’s your beef, that this “MMA movie” was, in fact, a fine film. It’s true, Hollywood doesn’t make the little gems that other places do, so perhaps your experience is limited.
    Hardy and Nolte — and I wish Edgerton, too–should get nominations: transformative performances from both. We couldn’t take our eyes off the screen during the bitter exchanges between brothers and their father. Man, if a film’s success depends on our identification with the conflict, we’d see damned few.
    The cinematography of the fight scenes is amazing, the moves intricate, the focus always on the emotional drama being played out on the fighters’ faces.
    Finally, a word on Tom Hardy. The man is a chameleon on screen and stage; like Nolte, he is the real deal in character acting.
    Thank you, David Poland, for the great review. You can apparently see the same movies I do.

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