The problem with any film that has a sport at the centre of its narrative, even if its only just a vehicle to drive a more human arc (as with The Fighter and The Wrestler) is that it will forever be classified in the basement category along with all the other "sports movies", like The Mighty Ducks and The Longest Yard. And Air Bud. But if The Wrestler, Moneyball and The Fighter have taught us anything, it's that films about sportsmen and women can be great, and well worthy of awards nominations, without the need to be saccharine or worthy like The Blind Side. Those films, as well as older sports classics like The Champ, This Sporting Life and even Rocky have gone some way to reclaim the label and remove some of the stigma, proving that sports film can offer something to a far broader audience than their immediate fanbase. There are stories among the matches and results. MMA fighting is arguably the most niche of all sports - it has a burgeoning but still relatively limited fanbase in comparison to boxing, and linked releases like MMA video games tend to be marketed as a niche concern (albeit apart from the recent excellent UFC Undisputed 3). The sport also has very little of the spectacle and splendour of those sports which generally translate the best to films - boxing, American football, baseball - but it can boast the kind of ferocity that few other sports could ever muster on even their bloodiest of days. And that ferocity lends itself perfectly to conflicted human stories outside of the ring, like this tale of estranged brothers - Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Bredan (Joel Edgerton) - who unwittingly sign up for the same prestigious MMA tournament in an attempt to win $5 million. United by their skills in the ring, and their hatred of their absent father (played by Nick Nolte), who Tommy turns to for help in training for the competition, the pair embark on an emotional, heavy-hitting journey towards conflict. Warrior feels like it should carry the "Based on a true story" tagline - and indeed the early marketing campaigns seemed to erroneously hint at as much - because of its dependence on familial conflict and its emotional rawness, and there is no doubt the film is somewhat contrived in order to pull on those sort of strings. But that doesn't detract in any way from the accomplishment of the film: driven by three great performances, from one grizzled, effortless veteran and two of the brightest talents of this era's pool of actors, the film is almost an unequivocal success. Its contrivance is also very much glossed over thanks to some clever narrative decisions: chiefly the dynamic between the two sons and their abusive, broken father. It is a portrait of complex relationships, with atypically complex characters (for a sports drama), and despite its rawness, it isn't shot in the same stripped bare aesthetic as The Fighter or The Warrior - an approach that rather insisted on those films' stark realism. In fact, it looks very good, with some mighty fine editing on show. As with all of the most successful sports films, Warrior is about so much more than sport - it is a redemptive, emotionally piquant portrait of conflict and resolution on a far broader, more humanist scale than in-ring combat. And crucially, rather than the narrative tricks of other sports films - the soaring soundtracks and manipulated framework - Warrior is a far more truthful film, which relies on the vastly impressive performances of its acting talent, and a hugely engrossing script to utterly convince of its objectives. And though it is infinitely more than just a sports film, Warrior also utterly convinces in its sporting sequences, an undervalued achievement among sports films, which often rely on a conveyance of the spirit of the sport over technical authenticity. It helps, of course, that Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton look the part, and though they were over-looked by the Academy this time, both can count themselves as unlucky to not have picked up the highest praise. But if there is any sugar to sweeten that bitter pill, it will surely come in the knowledge that their performances and their film will unite genuine MMA fighters and movie fans in enjoyment.
Warrior is a very good-looking film, and thankfully the transfer does the source proud. The palette is natural and authentic, especially in skin tones (and there's a lot of skin on show), and details and texture are exceptional throughout. There remains a pleasant filmic texture to the film, since it was mostly shot on 35mm film as opposed to in HD, which adds an authenticity to the tone, and adds to the visceral, raw feel of the narrative. Truly brilliant stuff. The audio quality is simply flawless, out-stripping even the brilliant visuals. Dialogue is clear and given perfect precedence, atmospherics are exquisitely presented and the fight sequences in particular are bombastic and bristling with audio energy. Overall, the entire transfer feels demo-worthy, and the closest thing to perfection I've seen so far this year.
A good mix of supplementals here, from a genuinely entertaining four minute gag reel through to a behind-the-scenes deconstruction of the fight finale, as well as a good audio commentary featuring actor Joel Edgerton and the film-makers, and an impressively rich picture-in-picture feature. It is particularly good to see real MMA fighters discussing the film in the Philosophy in Combat feature, and a distinct lack of the obligatory promotional materials that studios infuriatingly still tend towards. Audio Commentary with Filmmakers and Actor Joel Edgerton. Full Contact: Feature Length Enhanced Viewing Mode. Cheap Shots. Brother vs. Brother (Anatomy of the Fight). Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life. Philosophy in Combat. Simply Believe: A Tribute to Tapout Creator Charles Mask Lewis, Jr. Digital Copy. DVD Version. Warrior is available to buy on blu-ray and DVD now.