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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Warrior

December 18th, 2011

Warrior - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Warrior is a sports film that focuses on Mixed Martial Arts. MMA is a sport that is growing in popularity, but it has not yet reached mainstream appeal. This could partially explain why the film struggled at the box office, although opening in less than 2000 theaters didn't help either. Now that it is coming out on the home market, will it find a wider audience? Or is it strictly for fans of the sport?

The Movie

The film tells the story of two brothers, Tommy and Brendan, who grow up in a dysfunctional environment, mainly due to their father, Paddy, and his alcoholism. The film begins with Tommy coming home from a stint in Iraq with the Marines to catch up with his father and have a drink. However, Paddy's gone sober, something Tommy doesn't believe. He doesn't believe his father would ever change, but given the hell Paddy put the rest of his family through, it's hard to blame him.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, we meet the other member of the Conlon family, Brendan, who is married to Tess, and has two daughters. Despite having three jobs between the two of them (he's a high school teacher and they both work in bars as well), they are still having trouble paying their bills. (Their daughter had health problems and the medical bills nearly wiped them clean.) He's looking to go back to MMA to help raise a bit of money, or else his house is going to be foreclosed. His efforts backfire, because when word of his professional fighting comes to light, he's suspended without pay from his teaching job. He's left with little choice, but to go back to MMA full time.

At the same time, Tommy starts fighting again. First he just tries his hand at sparring for extra cash, but when he demolishes a pro-fighter, he decides to enter a MMA tournament, Sparta, which is a single elimination, winner-take-all, $5 million tournament. He even asks his father to help train him. He may have been a terrible father, but he was one hell of a trainer. Tommy does have one condition: Paddy is just his trainer and they are not going to have any father / son bonding moments. He is very insistent on that point.

Brendan starts sparring with his old trainer, Frank Campana, and even starts outperforming the professional Frank's been training for Sparta, Marco Santos. But when Marco Santos goes down with an injury just a couple weeks before the tournament, Brendan steps in to fill his place. This sets up the inevitable reunion between the two brothers.

There's more to it than that, including a story about what happened to Tommy in Iraq, but we are getting into spoiler territory talking about that.

This film barely made any noise at the box office and I think I know why. It suffers from the same problem as Drive and by that I mean it is a different film that the one advertised. The trailer begins at the main tournament and most of the two-and-a-half-minute long running time is spent dealing with the tournament. However, it takes one hour, eighteen minutes, and 30 seconds before the fighting at the tournament starts. And even then, there's more drama than action for the last hour of the movie. Clearly this is a movie that is about a whole lot more than just fighting. If you are not a fan of MMA, the trailer likely would have not sold you on the movie. This is a shame, because even those who are not interested in MMA as a sport, should enjoy this movie for its myriad of other strengths.

First and foremost, the film has excellent acting, especially from Nick Nolte, who earned a SAG nod this week. The various family interactions are more important than who wins the fights. This is really good news, because except for the final confrontation between the two brothers, none of the fights are a surprise. (You know Tommy and Brendan are going to fight in the end, we see that in the trailer, so you know they are not going to lose any of their fights. Early on Tommy embarrasses Pete 'Mad Dog' Grimes in a sparring match, so you know there will be rematch between those two. The only other MMA fighter we hear about before the tournament is Koda, so you know Brendan vs. Koda will be the other semi-final.) That's not to say the fights are uninteresting. The directing is excellent and fans and neophytes alike should be drawn into the action, even if you know how most of them will end.

There is a definite Rocky vibe to the movie and it wouldn't be unfair to compare the film to The Wrestler or The Fighter. But while there is a sense of Déjà vu, it isn't a large enough problem to prevent me from giving the film an enthusiastic recommendation.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with Gavin O'Connor, the director; Anthony Tambakis, the co-writer; John Gilroy, the editor; and Joel Edgerton, who plays Brendan. It's an informative track with plenty of information on all aspects of filmmaking. Redemption: Bringing Warrior To Life is a 32-minute making of featurette that's the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. There is a second making of featurette, Brother vs. Brother, which focuses on the climactic fight. There's one deleted scene and four minutes of outtakes. Finally, there are two featurettes that deal with real life MMA. Philosophy in Combat: Mixed Martial Arts Strategy interviews real life fighters, who were featured in the movie, as they discuss their sport. Simply Believe: A Tribute to Charles "Mask" Lewis, Jr. is a tribute to the TapouT co-founder, who was going to be featured in the movie, but sadly passed away before the filming began.

There is only one exclusive extra on the Blu-ray, but it is a Picture-in-Picture track with Gavin O'Connor and Nick Nolte, but also includes interview clips, behind-the-scene footage, etc. It's equal parts information and entertainment and it's a great addition. The Blu-ray also comes with a DVD / digital copy of the movie.

As for the technical presentation... how do I put this. I've seen the film described as having a faux-Indie look to it, and this is true. The video intentionally looks low quality at times with colors that are muted and too much grain. It's a gritty film in every sense of the word. This was an aesthetic choice and while it fits with the feel of the film, it does negatively impact the video quality. On the other hand, when the film is at its best, it looks great. Strong colors, excellent detail levels, very deep blacks, etc. The audio is a fantastic 7.1 mix (there are also 5.1 and 2.0 mixes available). The dialogue is clear, there's plenty of ambient sound, the crowds surround you, the impact of the blows have weight behind them thanks to the sound. Absolutely no complaints here.

The Blu-ray cosst almost 40% more than the DVD, but it has an exclusive extra that pushes the technology, and the video / audio is an improvement, plus it comes with the DVD / digital copy, so it is worth paying extra.

The Verdict

I think Warrior will please fans of sports dramas regardless if they like MMA. It's a well done dysfunctional family drama with a sports drama as a backdrop. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack are worth picking up, while it is worth paying extra for the Blu-ray. You can also get it digitally, but since the Blu-ray Combo is only $3 more than the digital purchase, I think the physical copy is the better deal.

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