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[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an entry in Oscars Death Race, Sarah D. Bunting’s yearly quest to see every movie nominated for any kind of Academy Award. To view a scorecard, click here.]

Current Score: Oscars 45, Sarah 16 / categories completed: 1

Warrior is a lot of stories — which is unfortunate, because it should have picked just one of them, or two, and we’ve seen pretty much all of them before regardless. Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy and his splendiferous saddle of neck muscles that has its own post office), a veteran whose departure from the armed forces is initially somewhat mysterious, returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh, looking to get back into mixed-martial arts. He’s also looking to confront his estranged father and former coach, Paddy (Nick Nolte), about the crappy childhood he had to endure before Paddy got sober.

At the other end of Pennsylvania, Tommy’s brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a physics teacher in Philly from whom Tommy is also estranged, is upside-down on his mortgage and supplementing his income with MMA fights in parking lots. What luck, then, that the MMA’s World Series is coming up in Atlantic City, with a five-million-dollar winner-take-all purse! Gee, do you think the brothers will end up having to fight each other?

So, you’ve got a little Rocky going on with the scrappy underdogs; you’ve got a little The Fighter going on with the intra-fraternal resentments; you’ve got a little Million Dollar Baby over heeeere with the father figure trying to redeem himself, and a little Lights Out over theeeere with the wife who knowingly married a fighter and then made him promise not to fight ever again (Jennifer Morrison, doing what she can with the customary “I won’t watch you fight AND ALSO DESTROY THIS FAMILY” scene). I really cannot abide that trope; if you don’t want to marry a boxer, don’t marry a boxer, but if the violence and the six-pack turn you on, take the good with the bad and stop trying to change the guy. Could one of these movies or TV shows please write the lady so she’s with the fighter program? “Dang, the champ fucked your eye all up. That sucks, honey. Let’s open a bottle of pinot and talk footwork.”

…Rant over. (That one. For now.) The story also features the obligatory expositional voicing-over by various sports commentators and newscasters, to bring us up to speed on MMA rankings, why Tommy really left the Marines, and so on, and the movie is too long, too interested in dialogue shortcuts that don’t work for the characters, and too reliant on cellos to make sure we know what to feel. After his big for-your-consideration scene, Nolte is functionally done in the movie; pacing-wise, it’s somehow messy and also too neat.

But by the time we reach the climactic fight, the story has (excuse the pun) fought through the clichés and the overtaxed good-guy signifiers to arrive at some bracing stuff. The acting by Hardy and Edgerton is outstanding, which helps, and their final face-off gets at a raw truth about sibling relationships, about how much inchoate joy and hate they can simultaneously contain. Nolte’s isn’t the performance I’d have nominated, and I wouldn’t say it asks anything new of him, but it’s solid, even when he’s obliged to pay off a heavy-handed reference to Moby Dick.

And Frank Campano (Frank Grillo), Brendan’s second, is an interesting character; with his Beethoven and his mantras, he starts out like a gimmick, but the script sticks with it and doesn’t forget what he is, and in the fight scenes, he’s an island of calm and compassion. The Death Race has its unexpected pleasures, like an actor finally getting something good to do and doing the hell out of it, as Grillo does here.

It’s not a great movie; it’s not even good, really, if you add up all the parts. But by the end — thanks to Hardy’s second above-and-beyond performance of the film year, and to the story he and Edgerton tell together about the painful, sweaty, homecoming hug that is a family, sometimes — the sum of those parts is intense and worthwhile. Give it a look.

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I did not want to watch this film. I thought it would be The Fighter all over again and I'm just not interested in watching guys pummel each other. I watched it for my own ODR and because I think Hardy and Edgerton are so very talented. I'm just glad I watched it in my living room instead of a theater because I cried a humiliating amount at this movie. Like, even in the dark of the theater it would have been obvious to the strangers around me that the girl at the end of the row needs your extra popcorn napkins because her tissues are gone. The brothers' story really got me, mostly because Hardy and Edgerton are so very talented. They broke my heart. I popped the movie back into its Netflix sleeve and immediately started telling people to check it out.

And Campano? What a pleasant surprise that character was. I loved the hell out of him.

Jason Bellamy

I love this movie, and one of the biggest reasons is this: The relationship between Brendan and his wife DEFIES the stereotype you mentioned. Yes, as the movie opens we learn that Brendan was a fighter who was badly hurt and THUS his wife didn't want him to get in the ring again. But when he goes behind her back and fights again, and we expect her to give him the typical "it's the ring or the family" kind of speech, she doesn't do that at all — not even in their first conversation about it when she crouches beside him in the bathroom and never raises her voice and tends to his wounds. She expresses concern, yes, but she listens, she supports and she cares for him. She doesn't want to watch him fight, no, and she makes it clear she thinks he's making a mistake, but there's no ultimatum, no threat, no drama. Not once. Their relationship is one of the most realistic I've seen in any movie (no hyperbole), because even when they disagree they never lose sight of the fact that they're on the same team, like so many real married couples. She never says that he'll destroy the family by fighting. And when he lays out exactly why he's taking the risk, she doesn't even disagree with his logic. Her concern throughout the movie is exactly what you'd expect it to be in a stable marriage between two mature adults who love one another: it's about his safety. It isn't selfish in the least, nor is it about accusing him of selfishness. Change him? She never tries. Be *with* him? She is. The entire time. Supporting him and being concerned about his chances of getting seriously injured (again) aren't mutually exclusive.


I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I should and you've captured all the reasons why. It doesn't do anything you don't expect it to do but that final fight tears your heart out anyway. I've recommended it without hesitation saying "you've seen it before but you'll enjoy watching it again." Oh, and Tom Hardy, his lips, and his neck muscles? HOT.

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