Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Warrior (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


I would be lying to you if I didn't admit to feeling a sense of deja vu earlier today when I saw "Warrior", the latest fight film. As soon as I saw the black screen and the bold white letters, it hit me. Suddenly,there I was at 18 years old, in an Atlantic City movie theater. I was on Valium with two casts on my feet seeing "Rocky III." I was a  summer patient of Seashore House then, a physical therapy clinic. I was being poked, prodded and wrenched by orthopedic hands. I was also bullied by the other kids, but when watching Sylvester Stallone that didn't seem to matter. With one cinematic underdog punch I was right there in The Other Place, giddy and floating without pain.
Yes, there are quite a few things in "Warrior" that are similar to the "Rocky" franchise, not least of them being another gray, gritty, Pennsylvania setting. In this case, Pittsburgh. There is also a young bruiser who is all muscle and bluster, an amateur boxer with a hound dog heart (Tom Hardy). There is the boozy and barnacled trainer (Nick Nolte) who also happens to be the father who was never there. There are scenes of training and jogging in the dead of Winter in sweatshirts that seem leftover from the old  Sly wardrobe, coupled with images of red meat sizzling on a grill. The nods to "Rocky" seem so overt at times that they seem close to parody. But then I got it.
Rather than a teasing parody these Balboan  bits are a nostalgic homage to the Underdog canon.
Tom Hardy has an earthy magnetism. He doesn't say much. His character, doesn't have to. All the dialogue necessary is in his body. Tommy trudges off with shoulders hunched, as if he's being stalked by the invisibles of Guilt. There is something of Robert Blake within him. Hardy is the disaffected spirit, aloof, almost sociopathic--a sad animal Without.
Joel Edgerton plays it  well as Brendan, a physics teacher at the local high school who is driven to try his fist at mixed martial arts to make ends meet.  Edgerton looks uncannily like Russell Crowe and it's true that Crowe could play this part on autopilot. But Edgerton gives an earnest, authentic delivery to his nice guy role. Even though the story spends much time on Brendan, it is Tommy as the hunted wolf who is the real pulse of the film.
An added surprise is Kevin Dunn as Principal Zito, who is understated and completely genuine in being a closet MMA fan.
The weak tether on "The Warrior" is Nick Nolte himself, who seems to blubber and overact in a few scenes of  family confrontation. He spends most of his time whispering and bellowing, and saying "You can do it, son!" And listening deliriously to "Moby Dick" on tape.  It's not that Nolte is Bad; he has just been  in too many whiskey-soured roles--- too much of a character within a character. The sight of Old Nick is like the sound of a Tom Waits song and maybe that isn't so terrible. It's just that you know what you're getting before you get it.
And so it is with a good half of this film: we've swallowed these raw eggs before but somehow they're never rotten.This timeless story is as emotional as ever and you'll want to pull all the punches to spare yourself the stress.
What at first seems a melodramatic and perverse exercise in family drama becomes refreshing and apprehensive onscreen. The fight scenes are hard, and biting yet they soar with a meta-pacing that makes everything at least appear new. 
This film gives another dramatic pummeling with action and heart. To see "Warrior" is not to be disappointed or tapped out. You can always go to GNC after the show.
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