Warrior -- the Mixed Martial Arts themed Drama released by Lionsgate films in the latter half of 2011 -- has been available for home viewing for a few weeks now, and for those yet to decide whether it is worth your purchase, this review may help.
The general premise concerns two estranged brothers who enter an MMA tournament called 'Sparta' to win the prize of $5 million, needed by both for differing reasons. Tommy -- played by Tom Hardy, who stars as Bane in this years Batman caper The Dark Knight Rises -- is a heavy drinking, pill taking Marine that went AWOL because he promised a fallen comrade he'd take care of his family, and winning 'Sparta' is his way of doing that.
Brendan -- played by Australian actor Joel Edgerton -- is a high school Physics teacher with a wife and family to support, and a growing number of bills he can't pay because of borrowing money for his daughter's heart operation, and the bank wants to take his house through foreclosure.
Both Tommy and Brendan are the sons of Paddy (played by, who was nominated for the 'Best Supporting Actor' award for this role at the 2012 Oscars), a recovering alcoholic who served as their amateur wrestling coach when both were in high school. Through divorce and separation, Tommy left with his mother, while Brendan stayed with Paddy because of his girlfriend (now wife), and bitter resentment by both towards Paddy for his alcoholism continued to grow in the years apart.
Most MMA writers agreed that while Warrior is the best MMA themed movie yet, it was still very flawed and suffered from what felt like a hokey storyline and ending, as well as not having a real life MMA story to reign it in from the levels of absurdity it sometimes reached. No American promotion today offers a prize remotely near $5 million for a tournament win, and New Jersey -- where the Sparta tournament takes place -- would never regulate a tournament that features participants in multiple fights across two nights. Some of the beatings taken during the fights in the film would have been stopped much sooner in real life, but the film makers fully exercised their poetic / Hollywood license to add to the impact and drama.
The main roles in the film are all well acted though, and the personal strife each character individually goes through is believable. The film doesn't drag, and despite some over the top elements in the fights, you don't have to suspend too much disbelief to watch them.
After the jump a look at the Blu Ray and DVD special features.
In this Double Play edition of Warrior, apart from the difference in Standard and High Definition, both discs share many of the same extra features. There's a feature audio commentary with the film makers and one of the main actors, deleted scenes, and an outakes video -- all par for the course on most digital releases. However I'll expand on the featured of note next.
Brother Versus Brother: Anatomy Of The Fight - Many home releases of movies have a similar feature often known as 'Anatomy of a Scene', and this is the take on the final fight of the film between Tommy and Brendan and the choreography and filming of it.
Philosophy In Combat: Mixed Martial Arts Strategy - This is a genuinely interesting featurette starring Frank Grillo -- who plays Brendan's (Joel Edgerton) coach in the film -- and MMA coach extraordinaire Greg Jackson, who was one of the main consultants for the film. They discuss Jackson's involvement in the film and how some of his sayings and idiosyncrasies directly influenced Grillo's character, as well as discussing the discipline, dedication and development within the sport of MMA.
Simply Believe: A Tribute To Charles 'Mask' Lewis, Jr. - A look back at one of the founders of the TapouT brand who tragically died in a road collision a few years ago, detailing his love for and involvement in MMA.
Blu Ray Exclusive Features
Redemption: Bringing Warrior To Life - A behind the scenes 'making of' featurette. This sheds some light on the restrictions and limitations this film faced in its production cycle and what circumstances influenced its direction. For instance, the estranged brother theme was based on the real life experience of Director Gavin O'Connor and his brother who had become estranged in their lives, and yet are reunited and working on films together today. Knowing this makes the hokey premise of estranged brothers re-connecting less contrived and more authentic.
Other revelations include why MMA was chosen as a sport instead of Amateur Wrestling or Boxing, why they ultimately chose to set it and film it in the state of Pennsylvania, the risk of using relative unknowns for the cast and crew, and the time limits and an ever decreasing budget they were forced to work with, and that's just scratching the surface of this special feature.
Full Contact: Blu-Ray Enhanced Viewing Mode - This is an absolute treat for movie buffs, and anyone with an interest in the film making and acting process. It takes the idea of film commentary to the next level by having the director Gavin O'Connor watch the movie in real time, and it's presented to us using a picture-in-picture format.
In other words, we're watching Gavin O'Connor watching and discussing the film, while the actual movie plays in a small window on the bottom right of our screens. The producers have set up a gym and MMA Octagon which O'Connor sits in, and various cast and crew guests tag in and tag out as the film progresses to the parts they're featured in to get their own take on that particular scene in the film. We also see occasional transitions to behind the scenes photos and videos on the main window, while the movie continues to play in the small bottom-right window.
To begin with O'Connor -- who was also the producer, and co-screen writer -- sits and chats with Nick Nolte about the beginning of the film, forming the character of Paddy, and the first meeting in the film between Paddy and Tommy (Hardy). During a transition, Nolte tags out and co-screen writer / co-producer Anthony Tambakis tags in to discuss the contrast between Tommy and Brendan (Edgerton), and the ideas and concept for the 'Birthday Party' scene.
Another transition, and Tambakis has been replaced by the assistant stunt coordinator and the actor who plays the owner of the gym that Tommy enters to train at. O'Connor discusses with them the scene concept, character development, set design choices and other technical aspects of the film, and this format continues for the duration of the film viewing.
In conclusion, despite the flaws this film has, the extra features especially on the Blu Ray edition show an insight into the trials and sharp turns this movie went through during production, and gives you a greater appreciation for what they were able to accomplish in spite of them. From an MMA fan standpoint, the feature with Greg Jackson makes it worth owning, but the behind the scenes and enhanced viewing the Blu Ray format affords makes it an essential purchase.
The Double Play Blu-Ray & DVD edition reviewed in this article was bought new from a retail store.