Warrior is as remarkable as it is immensely engaging and one of the year’s best in cinema.

Personally, I have always maintained that Rocky I & II are Sylvester Stallone’s best films; not because these films paved the future for Stallone, but due to its huge underdog factor. Everyone loves a good underdog story and this is also why Rocky has always ranked within my list of top 5 favourite films. Having said that, Warrior threatened to derail that list and almost as soon as the film started.

Just twenty minutes into this film and it becomes apparent to the viewer that this is no ordinary fight movie. We are first introduced to Tommy (Tom Hardy) as he visits his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), after a 14 year hiatus. This opening scene is critical to the film as it sets the tone, pace and foundation for solid characterization. A former alcoholic, Paddy seeks forgiveness for his abusive past, but Tommy has no interest in reconciling with his estranged father. Tommy believes he has a shot at winning the title in a Mixed Martial Arts tournament and wants nothing else but to be trained by his father. Elsewhere, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a former UFC fighter and family man faces eviction if he continues to default on his home mortgage. Left with no other choice, and with the help of an old friend (Frank Grillo), Brendan starts training again and quickly gains public favour as a local underdog vying for the title. Meanwhile, Tommy rises as an undisputed fighter but is not after the glory of winning. His motive for winning becomes apparent during the course of the movie and it stands out as a truly noble gesture.

See what is happening here? Written, produced and directed by Gavin O’Connor, the plot becomes an emotional roller-coaster ride when both fighters embark on a collision course. To avoid spoilers, a vital plot development is omitted in this review. Even so, the first half hour is all you need to see this emerging. Unlike other fight movies, there is no antagonist here — two fighters, each respectable, with individually justifiable motives to win the mega bucks tournament. This is where O’Connor’s story plays with your mind and thus making it very hard to choose sides.

Production values in this film are one of the leading best for a year that had barely a handful of top notch movies. This includes a phenomenal screenplay co-written by O’Connor, eating up over an hour of runtime in building impeccable character detail in Tom, Brendan and Paddy. More than anything else, this film is a heart-wrenching cry for redemption and O’Connor more than drives that message home. There are plenty of caged, yet brutal fight scenes, but these are strategically placed in the second half. Fight choreography and cinematography are astounding without any apparent visual effects while always giving the viewer a ring-seat perspective. Sound editing is another area of technical excellence, especially when you hear the very realistic yet sickening sound of a fist pounding wet flesh. Casting and acting are easily one of the best of 2011. After this, Hardy and Edgerton are going places; for sure. However, not since Prince of Tides (1991) or Affliction (1997), have I seen Nolte in a role that begs for an Oscar nomination. Thorough, authentic and soulful are the words that come to mind.

Yes, Warrior is not perfect with its perceivable flaws; but it does a great job in avoiding typical Hollywood traps, even with some clichés. At some point it can even be compared to The Wrestler, The Million Dollar Baby and The Fighter — all Oscar nominated films with a central theme of redemption. It also screams Spartacus (1960) towards the end. However, Warrior is in a class of its own due to the standard it has created while raising the bar in this genre, and ends up as a full-bodied sports drama with a strong emotional tug. Right from the start, the film trades one-two punches with the viewer. Be prepared though, for that heart-tugging, teary eyed haymaker in the end. This is exactly what makes this film lovable to the hardest of critics or even viewers who loathe blood sport.

Rating: ★★★★½

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.