You know what I love? I love when I watch a movie with the wrong expectations. You know, when you make assumptions based on nothing like humans love to do, and write something off as silly or clichéd for no good reason except maybe a movie trailer, which we all know can be very misleading. It doesn’t help, of course, when said movie trailer reveals all of the major plot points of said movie. But anyway, I love it when that happens because I tend to underestimate the movie and get a wonderful surprise.
I’ll give you an example; this movie called Warrior. And if you haven’t seen it, be warned that there are spoilers up ahead. My thoughts after seeing the Warrior trailer were mostly wondering if they’d really just told us basically the entire movie leaving off the end. This led to me deciding that the movie makers were stupid, and the movie, therefore, must be just another mediocre, melodramatic “sports movie.” You know what I’m talking about. Nevertheless, I decided I wanted to see it, because Tom Hardy stars in it, and I wanted to make sure he would win in the end like I predicted based on the trailer, and because I’m not against seeing clichéd sports movies, especially if they promise good action.
Tom Hardy plays Tommy, an ex-marine and former wrestler gets his estranged dad (Nick Nolte) to train him for SPARTA, a tournament referred to as the super bowl for mixed martial arts. If he wins, he has a very noble plan for the five million dollar prize. Meanwhile, Joel Edgerton plays Brendan, an ex-fighter, now a high school physics teacher who gets back into fighting for the money, to keep his house from foreclosing. He tries to stick to small events, but eventually enters SPARTA too, when a contestant breaks his leg, leaving Brendan’s trainer with no one else to enter. Tommy and Brendan are brothers of course, but haven’t seen each other for fourteen years, and are bitter about their past, especially Tommy, who always appears to be ready to explode at any moment. Can the brothers fix their broken relationship, with each other, and their recovering alcoholic dad? Who will win the tournament and five million dollars? And will I ever learn my lesson, and quit judging great movies before I see them?
Like I said, I first wanted to see this movie because of Tom Hardy, and I went into it already having decided to cheer for him. But this fine film wants us to cheer for Brendan. Not that we shouldn’t cheer for Tommy too, they're both sympathetic characters in two very different ways. But Brendan is the hero here, the one with heart, and I got sucked into liking him amazingly fast, and practically forgot Hardy was even in the movie, which is a credit to the filmmakers and the acting. Joel Edgerton immediately shot up from vaguely-familiar, oh-yeah-didn’t-he-have-a-bit-part-in-Star-Wars, to an actor who would make me want to watch his movies just because he’s in it, like Hardy and this movie. I’d only seen him as a young Uncle Owen before, and wrongly judged him to be a small-part actor, incapable of carrying a film, but he does carry this one, with a likeable ease. I should have known; you never judge someone’s acting on their performance in a prequel Star Wars movie, unless that person happened to play Anakin.
The acting all around, in fact, was quite good. Jennifer Morrison who plays Tess, Brendan’s wife, was a pleasant surprise. I couldn’t believe it was the same person who stars in that Once Upon a Time show. I almost couldn’t take her seriously. If I’d first recognized her as Kirk's mom in Star Trek reboot it would’ve been a lot easier. And Nick Nolte plays his sad, lonely character with just the right amount of pathetic likeability.
I love it when you can tell what a character is thinking without the script making it obvious. You have to pay attention, and maybe even work to understand it, but it makes you more invested. And this is an involving, character driven movie anyway. The fight scenes aren't just great action sequences; they're also an amazingly real and involving part of the development. Every epic, or unbelievable moment was still believable, and even the classic clichés of the genre were totally enjoyable. Everything works together wonderfully to build up tension towards climax, where I found myself wondering who was going to win, and surprising myself by hoping it would be Brendan, against my original hopes and predictions. And that final moment couldn’t have been better, astonishing me with its powerful simplicity.
Even though the trailer gave away a lot of the movie, it really didn’t matter. I knew by watching it that Tommy and Brendan would fight for the championship in the end, but you can assume that would happen anyway, right? This is a "sports drama" after all. In a way, they were actually smart to make the trailer how they did, because I was never really worried about what would happen, but how it would happen. And that’s what resonates in the end. There’s nothing wrong with this movie in the first place, but it’s not the plot, but the deeper, emotional side, planted between the lines, and woven silently into the action that makes a powerful impact, and makes the movie great.
This is that sort of movie that is so detailed, so involving, and so devoid of slow spots, you'll want to make sure you're set to stay planted in front of the TV for the entire duration of the film; you'll not want to miss a single thing.