Movie review: Warrior (2011)

Warrior focuses on the world of mixed martial arts. No longer my cup of tea, I prepared to channel a former life—when I dabbled in martial arts.

To my surprise, the movie drew me in…with the storyline, with Nick Nolte, with the tension of the matches. I found myself on edge for the last hour.

For reasons unknown to me, it had been far too long since I had watched Nolte ply his craft. He played the role of a recovering alcoholic, one thousand days sober. He had left a wake of broken family relationships behind him and was now paying the price for it.

The movie starts with one son seeking him out. Sort of. Tommy wants no part of his father’s life, but there he is one evening on his father’s porch and eventually asking his father to reprise his role as his coach. Tommy was the star fighter in the family, the son that Paddy (Nolte) took an active role in coaching during his son’s school days. (This is in stark contrast to the other son, another talented fighter, who never benefited from his father’s coaching.)

When he was still young and in school, Tommy left with his mother. She had had enough drunken abuse from Paddy. Tommy ended up caring for her as she died in poverty. Later he signed up for the Marines and ended up serving in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Tommy’s older brother Brendon stayed behind with his father, but eventually severed ties with him in order to raise his own family free from the abusive trauma that he endured growing up.

All three men—Paddy, Tommy, and Brendon—are thrown together through a worldwide mixed martial arts tournament. Tommy is competing to explicitly win money for a fallen Marine brother’s wife and children but implicitly to inflict damage to himself. Brendon is returning to fighting to put food on the table and keep a roof over the heads of his family as he pays off loans for his daughter’s heart surgery—his job as a high school physics teacher isn’t cutting it. Paddy is drawn in as Tommy’s coach, caught between two sons fighting him and literally fighting each other.

Warrior is more about family relations and estrangement than it is about mixed martial arts. The latter is merely a vehicle to explore the former. Through driving his father to drink again, Tommy allows himself to become close to his father—seemingly recreating the role he and his father played as he was growing up. In the cage during the championship fight with his brother, Tommy allows Brendon to become physically and emotionally close to him.

Warrior is about family reconciliation, redemption, and forgiveness—of others and of oneself. Tommy, the unlikely character to initiate healing, forces all of them—including himself—to confront the demons of their past and receive healing grace.

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