Director: Gavin O’Connor
Tommy Conlon: Tom Hardy
Brendan Conlon: Joel Edgerton
Their Dad: Nick Nolte
Brendan’s Wife/Ted’s Ex from “How I Met Your Mother”: Jennifer Morrison
Brendan’s Trainer: Frank Grillo
Shia LeBeouf’s Dad in Transformers: Kevin Dunn
KURT ANGLE: Koba
The film can be broken into two parts. Part I: Pre-Sparta. Part II: Sparta. Sparta being the 16-man MMA tournament with a five-million dollar pot involving the top middle-weight MMA fighters in the world.
Part I introduces us to the two main characters: Hardy and Edgerton. But they’re kept separate, never once, in Part I, appearing, on-screen, together.
I guess it would be good to discuss what, exactly, is meant by “mythology infused storytelling”. A myth is a story that becomes an example of a value, or an explanation of why or how something is. A mythic figure has the same function. So George Washington has become a mythic figure in American culture because he was, according to the stories, such a central figure in the founding of America. Atticus Finch, despite being fictional (To Kill A Mockingbird), is a mythical figure for lawyers: he is the embodiment of the lawyer-ly ideal to stand up for justice in the face of injustice (since Atticus defended an innocent black man in racist 1930’s Alabama, despite threats to his life and his children). The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Vietnam War are all part of the American Mythology. Legends and folk tales and folk figures all fall under the realm of mythology.
Another facet of myth is archetype. A mythic figure almost always comes to define an archetype. Think about the traits associated with Washington (leadership), Lincoln (honesty), Franklin (knowledge), and Jefferson (democracy). Now, the two, myth and archetype, can be disconnected. Atticus Finch is a mythic figure for lawyers. Is he a mythic figure for detectives? Probably not. That honor belongs to Sherlock Holmes. That doesn’t relieve Atticus of his archetype though: he will forever be “the lawyer who does the right thing”. What I’m trying to say is that having an archetypal characteristic doesn’t automatically make you a mythic figure. It’s just mythic figures, because they become associated with ideals, are known for their archetype.
What’s this have to do with Warrior?
In the world of the film, Hardy and Edgerton become mythic figures.
The Underdog is an archetype. So is the Hero.
Part I of Warrior sets up the mystique that surrounds each archetype.
The Hero is usually known for his feats and deeds--little is usually known about the individual. Tiger Woods was a hero for his golfing ability. Luke Skywalker was a Hero for destroying The Death Star. The Six are Heroes for killing Osama bin Laden. NYPD and FDNY were Heroes for their efforts on 9/11. Do we really know Tiger Woods? Did the thankful people of the Galactic Republic know Luke Skywalker? We know nothing of The Six. And how many of us personally know every officer and firefighter that was at the WTC site on 9/11?
The Underdog is known for overcoming circumstances. That means a qualification of Underdog status is the public knowledge of circumstances. If I say the Flying Saucers are playing the Godzillas, what’s that tell you? Nothing, really. But if I say the 20-0 Flying Saucers are playing the 3-17 Godzillas, you’re suddenly like, "Oh, the Saucers must be good and the Godzillas must be bad." Then I tell you the Godzillas have lost their best player. Vegas odds favor the Saucers 1 to 1. The Godzillas are obviously underdogs (30 to 1, we'll say). But the Godzillas win. Thus the Godzillas become The Underdog. This is a typical story in sports. There are examples in regular life as well. Single parents are thought to be underdogs. And if a single parent manages to earn a living, support a child and keep him or her out of trouble, and send that child to college, that parent becomes an Underdog.
What we get then, in Part I, are the circumstances of Edgerton’s life: We see him at his daughter’s birthday party. We see him with his wife. We see him teaching. We see how his students respond to him. We see him at the bank, that the bank is screwing him over, that his house is going to be foreclosed. We see him flirting with his wife. Then we see him fight. And we see his wife’s reaction to the wounds. We get some back story about how he used to fight. We see that his students had heard about him winning the event the night before and we see that the principal also knows this and we see Edgerton get suspended for participating in MMA. We’re privy to Edgerton’s daily life, to his highs and lows, to the intimate conversations with his wife, to his concerns, to his desperation and commitment.
We don't get this with Hardy. We get Hardy's feats and deeds: he had to watch his mother die, he was a junior Olympian, he won a high school wrestling state championship, he was in the marines, he DOMINATES the top middleweight contender in a sparring session at the local gym and it becomes a viral video sensation and even makes ESPN.
Can you see the difference in HOW the brothers are shown to the viewer?
Note: I had hated the opening scene, a conversation between Nolte and Hardy, because I could care less about either of them, and here they were meeting for the first time in years and years and years and it's quite melodramatic. For the characters, this was an important event. But why should such a key EMOTIONAL moment start the movie? Why should I listen to Hardy rant and be so defensive and ridiculing and unforgiving so EARLY in the movie? But this scene is the most Hardy talks in the entire movie. This is the side of The Hero we never really see again. Because Hardy isn’t The Hero at this point. He’s an angry boy. So, in retrospect, as the movie progresses and Hardy sort of fades as an individual and becomes more and more a Figure, the opening scene becomes increasingly important because, for the viewer, it's a reminder of Hardy's humanity, about the pain fueling his actions.
This is important for Part II. In Part II, each character attains mythical status via their archetype. It helps that this is the first Sparta and it's being billed as the greatest MMA event of all-time. That means Hardy and Edgerton have set the precedent. Hardy with his mystique and quick KOs, the legend of his heroics as a marine, and the aforementioned YouTube video, is The Hero future Sparta participants will learn about. Edgerton—considered too old to contend, a quick replacement for a better, younger fighter, remembered as having never been good enough even when he was in his prime—is, especially since his face gets smashed for most of the first fight (and those that follow), The Underdog. In the realm of the movie, he'll become an example, someone people point to and say "If he could do it...". So while Edgerton and Hardy may not be mythical figures for viewers at home, in the diegetic world of the film, they have become god-like.
I'm not crazy:
I think the film is aware of what it's doing. There's a scene where Nolte is watching Hardy's high school wrestling tape and the announcers talk about how Hardy compared himself to a mythological figure from Ancient Greece: Theogenes. Theogenes supposedly won something like 1,415 matches (others say only 1,300). So there's this notion that Hardy had wanted to become better than the mythic figure. When Nolte reminds Hardy of this, Hardy's response is, when you boil it down, STFU. But Hardy goes on to become just what he had wanted to become.
Did I like it:
Yes. A lot. But I, at times, really disliked the cinema verite style. I don't hate all cinema verite movies. But the opening shot from inside a car felt so....cliche. I really noticed it throughout Part I. But Part II I could have cared less, I was transfixed by Sparta.
It wasn't until half-an-hour after the movie had ended that I finally realized the fights weren't real. They were shot that well.
I haven't been so engrossed by a movie in a long time. For stretches, the movie theater disappeared. I doubt everyone will have the same experience. But the movie had this impact on me. During the fight scenes, my heart was actually racing. Why? Well, the film is smart and talks about an injury Edgerton had suffered during a fight. One that was bad enough to send him to the hospital. One that made him quit because his wife was so upset. This is backstory but it can also be foreshadowing, the viewer doesn't know. So you really don't know if the film is going to be a tragedy or a...non-tragedy. Will Edgerton be severely injured during Sparta? That question made every fight all the more interesting. (The real test though is re-watching the movie knowing what I know and seeing if I still enjoy it). Update 4/5/2012: Yeah. Just re-watched. I still liked it.
Hardy is really good, but he's not shot like the star of a movie usually is. He's hunched, crouched, hushed, shadowed. Edgerton and Nolte handle the brunt of the camera's force. Again, this is because the film wants to keep a distance between the viewer and Hardy. And it wants to show us Edgerton. And it wants to captures Nolte's pain.
I think the movie is the right length. If it were any shorter, I think aspects would be underdeveloped. And it would have been a shame to skip a fight.
It reminds me of "The Dark Knight" actually. Both are about "what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object".
What It's Good For:
-if you like Oscar-style films.
-Hardy and Edgerton fans
-solid sports movie
-I think it's just an awesome movie people should see
-realistic fight scenes
-allusions to Moby-Dick
-action packed second hour
-some coincidences push the plot along, so nitpickers could be bothered
-some predictable parts (but everyone knew Frodo would drop that stupid ring into the fire and that didn't stop Return of the King from winning Best Picture)
-people who dislike violence probably won't like the fights
-all action in the second hour
You might be wondering about the symbolism of Nolte listening to Moby-Dick on tape. Captain Ahab destroys himself and his crew by hunting Moby-Dick. Nolte might view himself as Ahab and alcohol as the white whale. Nolte, has, thankfully, been able to cease chasing the whale, so to speak. And listening to the story is a reminder of the doom that awaits him should he return to alcohol. Nolte, of course, does (and this is when he's listening to the destruction of the ship by the white whale). But alcohol doesn't bring him ruin. It actually reunites him with Hardy. So Nolte's failure is actually the redemptive action of the film. Which is interesting.
On another level, one could view Hardy as Ahab. Hardy wants to win Sparta so he can give the money to the widow and children of his dead friend. He's single-minded and bitter and inhuman. But, unlike Ahab, he is able to quit the hunt.
% Character / % Actor's personality
-Hardy: Bronson, Inception
-Edgerton: The Square, Animal Kingdom
-Nolte: Gary Busey, The Thin Red Line, Affliction, Cape Fear
-MMA movies: Fighting; Never Back Down; Bloodsport
-Triumphant sports movies: Rocky; D2; The Natural; The Fighter; Invictus