“Warrior” Movie Review

by Kelly Cresap

Here’s an idea for MKP Men: Watch the movie “Warrior” with your I-group, and begin discussion afterwards with this question:

What would you do if Tommy Riordan stepped up to do some work in your circle? He’s a bruising hulk of a man who once ripped the door off a tank. His preferred face-to-face mode involves pulverizing a man in the first half-minute of a mixed-martial-art bout. Even more intimidating than his physique is his attitude, a round-the-clock scowl that seems to say, Guess how angry, guess how resentful.

I found clues for dealing with Tommy from watching his brother. In the stirring new movie “Warrior,” Tommy (played by Tom Hardy) is pitted in more ways than one against his estranged brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton). Brendan is a Philadelphia high school physics teacher and devoted family man. Faced with a daughter’s medical bills and imminent foreclosure on his house, he chooses to return to a former gig: arena fighting outside a local strip club. Overnight he becomes a walking embodiment of the clash between brain and fist, between ivory tower and street smarts, between middle class and working class, and between pre- and post-2008 economy. When he shows up at school the next morning with a pummeled face and a shiner, the principal suspends him from teaching.

Brendan’s first scene in the film puts him at the other end of the archetypal spectrum from his brother Tommy. At a backyard party his young daughters outfit him in an absurd floppy knitted hat and pastel scarf, and paint his cheeks bright yellow and pink. He says bemusedly to his wife, “Daddy is now a princess.”

This playful emasculation sets Brendan up as a feminine counterpart to his brother’s aggressive and defiant machismo. Much of the film’s payoff comes in terms of such mythic opposition between the brothers. Tommy staggers his opponents with brute animal strength, where Brendan relies on his wits and endurance, his ability to withstand blows and outlast the other fighter. When the two are pitted against each other in a hyped Atlantic City MMA tournament, a good deal more than champ status and multi-million-dollar payoff are at stake. Brendan and Tommy’s fight begins in physical grappling and then becomes something more. What the baiting, capacity arena audience and slick sportscast announcers are not privy to is the shamanic nature of the work happening inside the octagon.

Their fight began years earlier, in the arena of a tough Irish-Catholic upbringing. They both carry wounds from living with a drunk, abusive dad (Nick Nolte). The brothers’ only real conversation in the movie—barked out on a beach near the Atlantic City mega-venue—reveals Tommy’s longstanding gripe with Brendan. When they were teenagers, Brendan chose to move west with their mother, leaving Tommy unaided in dealing with their father. Brendan knows that this offense is but one of the many grudges that animate his brother. Tommy carries his collection of life’s adversities like a trophy case with frosted glass. He channels his pent-up rage into the MMA arena, and spurns any hint that he’s doing it for personal glory. He stomps off stage as soon as a fight is called, rather than submit to the post-match referee’s hand-raising ritual, the MMA’s equivalent of a victory lap. He refuses hero status when, mid-tournament, his military record comes to light, along with an arena cheering section composed of uniformed U.S. soldiers.

What’s a brother to do? How to square off against such a man? How to survive, much less triumph, in a fight against him? Wisely, the filmmakers chose to emphasize different questions, ones that place them more in alignment with MKP: What are Tommy’s core wounds, and how might one access them? Where can improvement begin in a man who is so set against it?

Beyond his smarts, endurance, and technical training, Brendan carries into the fight with his brother two things that none of Tommy’s prior opponents had: a gut knowledge of what’s frozen inside Tommy, and the filial compassion and persistence to reach past that toward the brother he once was and still might be. Among the other things needed for doing this, Brendan has to suspend whatever anger he may feel about how Tommy has neglected and abused him over the years. That takes as much intestinal fortitude as anything else on display.

I spoke about “Warrior” recently with Gareth Higgins, a Durham, North Carolina-based film critic a ManKind Project brother originally from Ireland. He reminded me of Brendan’s initial “princess” appearance in the movie, and the political stakes behind the climactic fight between brothers. Gareth helped me see that beyond reenacting an ancient Cain-and-Abel story, the movie provides clues about how to face up to stuck and shut-down aspects of the U.S. psyche. On a world stage, how are Americans collectively still like Tommy, the movie’s overgrown bully? What longstanding resentments and rage do we harbor? Combating such traits, as Brendan does, calls for a stepped-up game, new strategies, and new strength of resolve.

In addition, for Brendan and others willing to take the challenge, it may involve a fierce warrior making peace with his inner princess: tapping into reserves of humility, self-humor, femininity, and sovereign grace.

Kelly Cresap, Ph.D., is a Maryland-based MKP Co-Leader, presentation coach, and teacher of professional writing and storytelling therapy. He’s on the web at laughingmuse.com and fowlesbooks.com/forum.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On the WARRIOR Movie Web site – the ManKind Project made it to the top 6 supported organizations in the “What do you fight for?” contest. What do we fight for? We fight for the hearts of men. You can check out the what do you fight for pages – is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.

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