Warrior (UK - BD RB)
Marcus reviews the Blu-ray release of one of his favourites from last year...
Two brothers, Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), separated due to their alcoholic father's (Nick Nolte) mistreatment of their mother, both enter a mixed martial arts tournament after not seeing each other for years. With $5,000,000 at stake and winner takes all rules, this broken family hit their problems head on in the cage - but is it to late to fix things?
There's something about Warrior. From the opening song from 'The National', there's a mood here that draws you in to this unconventional family situation. The quiet initial subtle face off between a father and son is full of tension and even though it isn't completely obvious as to what's gone wrong with this family, it sets the perfect pace towards the dramatic conclusion. This is a journey full of sorrow, hope and devastating MMA fights.
Despite Nolte's well deserved Oscar nod, it's the two brothers' muscular shoulders that the majority of Warrior's weight rests on. Cleverly this story opts to present us with two different stories. Tommy, the more mysterious of the two brothers, whose childhood was lost to an abusive parent and a sick mother and Brendan, the family man who stands to lose everything with winning the tournament being the only way he can get himself out of his financial situation. Wisely the brothers are kept apart for a good half of the movie, with their father the only common link. Their stories are allowed to develop in their own ways so when the two come together, in a wonderfully tense glance across a crowed room, it's a hard call to decide which brother you want to back in this battle.
Each brother's road to the Sparta tournament and their advance through the rounds have you at odds over who should win. Tommy's fights are simply astonishing to watch, rather like watching Darth Maul in a mood in his brutal coolness and Brendan, the struggling underdog, deserves every win he gets and the pressure to win is always felt. The more we learn about the pair, the more the sense of the inevitable face off is felt. You'll begin to question who 'deserves' to win and who 'needs' to win this thing beyond just who you'd like to see triumph and then Warrior really earns its place as one of the best movies of 2011.
Warrior elevates beyond being an already very strong sports movie because of the heart breaking personal drama at its core and the family problems that feel so epic in scale it outshines the already impressive mixed martial arts on show. The fight scenes don't feel like fight scenes after a while, they feel like representations of the characters' internal struggles. There's something primal about seeing two brothers fight over their issues with one another and director Gavin O'Connor plays it beautifully. Every element builds and builds and the intimate raw emotions on show in the key scenes are as devastating as they are heartbreaking.
Its easy to say that sports movies are paint by numbers, and of course many of them are but its all about the elements and how much you care for them. I'm generally not a sports guy. I'm certainly not an MMA guy but Warrior feels more like an epic greek tradegy with a broken family (literally) battling to overcome their pasts, their problems and themselves. Warrior is an emotional roller coaster in its last act and watching it again for this review solidifies its place as one of my favourites of 2011.
Starting with an overall assessment, Warrior has a largely grainy apperance (as well as a fair bit of digital noise). Wider shots look okay but the tighter shots has the grain range from pleasantly filmic to overwhelmimgly grain-ridden depending on the lighting. So those of you who like your Blu-rays clean as a whistle and all glossy might not like what you get here.
Being more specific, the opening scenes with Tommy in his father's darkened home are quite typically a modern looking gritty drama. With orange lighting rubbing against blacks that aren't as deep as I expected but still relatively strong, this mix along with the grain makes for quite a grubby looking transfer overall but it's in no way a reflection of the rest of the presentation.
Version two of the film's style are the Tommy scenes. Generally everything with Tommy is kept stark with a fairly washed out appearance. Variations on blues and greys make up most of colour scheme and these scenes have a very cold overall feel, helping to generate a mood for the character.
Switching to Brendan, his scenes are presented with a more brightly lit apperance. Beginning with an outdoor child's birthday party, the image comes to life more than with the other characters. These scenes are cleaner, brighter and glow with bolder colours and so it continues, flitting between the two brothers and their father with the very different visual approaches with all three slowly becoming more akin to one another under the roof of the Sparta tournament.
The last half of the film gets a whole lot more consistent. Under the stadium lighting for the tournament, everything looks like a high end HD presentation. The grain is still there but with that much lighting, edges are sharper, colours are bolder and the realistic approach to the fight scenes feel intense. The image still remains a little soft but detail is there for the most part. Overall, this transfer will probably split the viewing audience down the middle with some accepting it along with the style of the film and those who just don't like all that noise on their image.
Despite the mumbling from the three leads from time to time, the dialogue is clear and central throughout. The score is kept to a minimum for the most part, keeping the movie fairly quiet but when that ever growing lift to the emotional elements is required the slow building elements of score adds the heart and soul to this tale. Sure, this is a sports movie, so expect some rousing moments, mainly housed in the training montage (it's a sports movie, of course there's a training montage). The use of the two "The National" songs in this flick, (especially the one towards the end) are a strong, powerful use of the songs and any fans of the band or emotional punches in film will eat this up.
Of course it's the fights that bring the track to life. From tne super bassy punches in the gym to the more impressive MMA moves in the tournament it's all quite astonishing. In fact, the first punch of the last fight is so strong it could very well knock the wind out of you watching it. Tommy's defeat of the gym's golden boy early in the film is also full of power and every single blow is felt.
Additionally all the fights in the film have a deep atmospheric mix. The crowds cheering are strong and full and the some elements of the fights erupt in the rear speakers. The action in the cage here feels alive and kinetic and every swing, kick and thump is felt, making the fights draw you in and feel brutal.
'Feature Length Advance Viewing Mode' is basically a video commentary. Starring Nick Nolte and director Gavin O'Connor, they watch the film in an MMA cage and the commentary is often over on set footage from the making of the film. Later O'Connor is joined by other cast members as well as crew members to add their insight. It's not the most exciting extra but in regards to showing the family of artists that made this movie and allowing many of the different elements get involved, it's a nice way to celebrate the talent and more films should follow this model I think.
The actual commentary track with with Gavin O'Connor (Director), Antony Tambakis (Writer), John Gilroy (Editor) and Joel Edgerton is also quite low key and takes a while to build. Having two writers on the track we get a lot about who they wrote the roles for, their intentions and the final product. There's a lot of affection for the actors and of course the sport and generally this is a nice mix of film making insight and admiration with all the participants casually adding their two cents throughout.
'Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life' (31:57 HD) is a fantastic making of with plenty of insight from all involved. Some of the cast's feelings on the story are very strong and having seen the final product, it feels as if the emotional punch was more important than the fights (which are very impressive in themselves).
'The Diner' (03:02 HD) is the single deleted scene and the optional commentary informs that it was actually the first scene they shot.
'Cheap Shots' (03:58 HD) is a pretty fun gag reel. 'Brother vs. Brother: Anatomy of the Fight' (11:55 HD) Focuses on the final fight in the film with a edited together reel with storyboards and rehearsal footage.
'Philosophy in Combat: Martial Arts Strategy' (21:07 HD) features MMA trainer Greg Jackson and the actor Frank Grillo. They discuss MMA and Warrior and their work on the film. Mainly it's about Jackson's principals towards MMA and more so his musical strategies in training.
'Simply Believe: A Tribute To Charles "Mask" Lewis Jr.' (13:58) is a look at the 'Tapout' co-founder who the film is dedicated to and who passed away shortly before filming.
Warrior was already one of the best films of 2011 for me and watching it again here has only solidified my feelings towards its impact. The disc is a fantastic package in regards to features and it offers up extras that cover every element of the film in a full and interesting way. The audio is also very strong and packs a wallop like Tommy in the cage fights. Less impressive is the video. I personally don't have a massive issue with the visual style of the film and feel the heavy grain and digital noise adds a mood of sorts but it won't be for everyone and for the first half of the film it's a real mixed bag of quality.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 20th February 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 7.1, DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Extras: Enhanced View Mode, Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scene, Gag Reel
Easter Egg: No
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Nick Nolte
Genre: Drama and Sport
Length: 229 minutes
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