WARRIOR: MMA Grit Meets 4K Glory

Tom Hardy & Joel Edgerton Square Off In Higher Resolution

You know what’s better than Rocky? Two Rocky’s!

Now calm down, I’m not saying Warrior is better than Rocky. It most certainly is not. But it’s fair to begin a review of Warrior with Rocky’s name in our mouths. Blue collar, family-focused, emotionally charged, set in sweaty gyms… Warrior walks the very same ground as Rocky, sometimes literally as one of Warrior’s major characters hails from Philadelphia, PA.

Tom Hardy’s Tommy Riordan shows up in Pittsburgh where his estranged drunk of a father (Nick Nolte’s Oscar-nominated role as Paddy Conlon) has sobered up. Back from war in the middle east and using his mother’s maiden name, Tommy is clearly damaged by both his upbringing and experiences in the war, but we’ll spend the bulk of the movie unraveling the mystery of his life. Meanwhile Joel Edgerton’s Brendan Conlon is happily married with kids, teaching high school physics and working some dead end jobs on the side to avoid foreclosure on their family home. Both men enter a high stakes mixed martial arts tournament and set themselves on a collision course ripe for movie magic.

So yeah… Warrior has two Rocky’s. Tommy and Brendan are well written and well-rounded movie characters (Director Gavin O’Connor co-wrote the script with Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman) whom the audience is rooting for in equal but different ways. Tommy is angry and mysterious, with the audience itching to learn more about him. Brendan is an everyman who’s overcome adversity and found love, but who is still struggling to provide for his family. These men are compelling, portrayed by actors who’ve become far more vital to modern American film since the release of Warrior. It’s almost jarring to be reminded that neither Hardy or Edgerton are, in fact, Americans. They’re also awfully pretty to be playing everymen. But Warrior overcomes all that and grounds itself in a blue collar grit that works heavily in its favor.

After all, what’s better stakes in a final fight than to be rooting for both contestants?! It’s a clever (if engineered) twist on a formula that sets Warrior apart, even if it very much is a product of formula. In the end, Warrior is a very good film that never achieves greatness. That doesn’t really matter much since the movie might as well be written, set and cast just for me. I love it dearly, had a blast revisiting, welled up at all the right parts, and greatly enjoyed expanding the theatrical experience of Warrior with the fairly robust and earnest bonus features found on this 4K UHD release. In other words, I like Warrior a fair bit more than it is actually a great film.

What holds it back from greatness? Well, the premise feels more set up than one can easily digest. Brendan Conlon’s ability to to rise to the final round of an MMA tournament is portrayed in the film as a total upset, but the audience feels it as well. It feels impossible. Our characters are also appropriately taciturn, which is wonderful for establishing the tough guy vibe. These guys wouldn’t be big emoters or talkers. But that leaves a lot of the plot heavy lifting to that classic trope of fight commentators or sportscasters narrating the emotions of the film. A whole lot of important emotions are more or less narrated to us by commentators.

But as much as those strikes against the film matter, there are just as many excellent decisions that set this film apart as a solid, watchable, relevant fight film. The casting of all the major leads, including Frank Grillo (whose star power has also risen dramatically since the release of Warrior) as Brendan’s old friend and trainer, is the true master stroke of Warrior. The acting is off the charts and drips with bro-like masculinity. Nick Nolte’s father figure looms over our lead characters and informs all of the action and motivations. Nolte’s Oscar nomination is about as deserved as a nomination has ever been. It’s such a haunted and redemptive role it causes you to swear at the screen with the gut-punching emotion of it all. The structure of the film is also pleasantly surprising. Sure, it’s all building to a big fight. There’s even a training montage to get you there. But it’s surprising how independently each of the storylines co-exist independently. Our two leads don’t meet one another until the third act, and it works powerfully. The final fight is a strong action set piece and also a powerful sequence of emotional storytelling. Warrior lives and dies by its structure and pacing and really nails both.

Warrior isn’t quite as universal as Rocky. It’s more specific to our economic strife and war-torn times. It’s more male-focused, with one very essential female character who never gets a chance to be as central or vital as Adrian does in the Rocky series. Its central premise is not just one extreme underdog longshot, but two. There’s a slightly thicker veneer of Hollywood on Warrior than on Rocky. But all of that is okay. Because Warrior is rock solid and highly watchable. As these lead actors’ (and the filmmaker’s) stars continue to rise, one hopes that Warrior will be discovered and re-discovered over the years and that this 4K treatment will update it for future audiences.

The Package

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the 4K format. While the film looks great, for the most part the leap from DVD to Blu-ray was more distinct and notable than the leap from Blu-ray to 4K. Last I saw Warrior was in the theater, so that’s the only comparison I can make here. There’s still plenty of grain in the image of Warrior (something I quite appreciate). The absolute most thrilling element of watching all films on 4K UHD, and Warrior specifically, is the human face. Nick Nolte’s craggy puss in glorious 4K is the element that most sets this new release apart.

On top of the new scan, this disc really is packed. There’s a commentary with the filmmakers and Edgerton which was captured back around the release of the film. It’s illuminating, but also occasionally uncomfortably masculine. It’s amazing how dated something can sound when 2011 doesn’t feel that long ago. The supplemental material is where the home video release shines. Highlighting the work of choreographer JJ Perry and digging into the real world of MMA that is honored and depicted with authenticity in this film, the bonus features truly expand one’s appreciation of the final film in a special way.

I suspect all of these bonus features and materials were all available in the original Blu-ray release, so those who already own the Blu-ray will need to be major fans of 4K content to buy this release. That said, if it’s been years since you revisited Warrior and you’re set up with 4K, you need Nick Nolte’s craggy-ass face in your home.

And I’m Out.

Warrior hits 4K UHD Blu-ray on Oct. 24th, 2017 from Lionsgate

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