Plot: What’s it about?
I’m not what you’d call a man’s man. I don’t know a thing about cars. About the closest thing I have to a power tool is a reversible flathead screwdriver. I couldn’t care less how silly I look stopping for directions if I’m lost and need help finding the interstate (or at least I didn’t have a problem with it before I had my handy dandy iPhone in my back pocket). I cry regularly and consider it a needed and cathartic experience. I like slow, sad ballad music over hip-hop, metal or just about anything recorded after 1995. You couldn’t get me to eat a buffalo chicken wing if you paid me good money, and I haven’t met a beer I didn’t dislike. In case you haven’t surmised by now, I also don’t care at all about sports. Any of them. I’d honestly rather spend a day in a dentist’s chair than watch the Super Bowl. At least I might have some whiter teeth to show for my time. So how exactly is it that I loved Warrior – and indeed, that I tend to love sports films in general? Well, I suppose part of it could be my channeling what should be my inner male through my undeniable love for movies. But that’s a stretch. Far more likely is that sports – for better or worse – just happens to be a phenomenally fertile soil for feel-good stories about people struggling to overcome their inner demons and triumph, underdog-style, against every obstacle they face. Most sports films aren’t really about sports at all. At least the best sports movies aren’t. They simply use what is an admittedly fitting framework to tell the kinds of stories to which we can all relate.
Warrior is just such a film. It’s one of the most hackneyed, contrived, and cliched movies I’ve seen in years. Nearly every single one of the usual trappings are here on full display. There’s the sparring match where the unknown pummels his opponent after being heckled in the gym and told to be careful he doesn’t hurt himself. There’s the guy who really shouldn’t have any real chance against far more qualified opponents. He’s the one that everyone laughs at for wanting to get in the ring with seemingly superior athletes and shouldn’t convince any ethical coach to allow it, yet he somehow does. There’s the reluctant trainer who “gave up fightin'” years ago and just can’t possibly be talked into doing it one, last time. There’s the reluctant fan who chastises our hero early on and then winds up cheering for him in the last reel to make it all feel that much better for the audience. And let’s not forget the climactic showdown that you can see coming from about 20 minutes into the film. And you know something? When the movie was over, I didn’t care. Warrior is such a good film – hitting every emotional beat just hard enough to resonate but not fall of the cliff of campy drivel, and layering on such uniformly great performances that are just nuanced enough to elevate the material to heights that far surpass anywhere it had any business being – that I found it quite simply impossible to care. When a film starts off at this much of a disadvantage (just re-read these first two paragraphs if you need a refresher) and yet it still makes my top ten list that year, I can hardly help but sit up and take notice.
I know this may seem like an utter cop-out in a section entitled “what’s it all about”, but Warrior is a film that’s far stronger without your having its story laid out in front of you. Even the trailer should be avoided at all costs, because there’s a particularly pivotal story element that factors into the (intentionally placed) reveals of the film that should be learned organically, not as part of a hook to get you watching in the first place. Suffice it to say that the film’s two lead characters (Tom Hardy’s Tommy and Joel Edgerton’s Brendan) are both given equally valid and compelling reasons for what they’re doing, both for fighting and for winning. Neither is necessarily portrayed as good or evil, right or wrong, righteous or villainous for doing what they need to do. Going into the final fight of the film, I genuinely felt conflicted over which of these two not only deserved to win, but which one should. What impressed me most about Warrior most was the realization that those two questions actually had two different answers. Far be it from me to not admit it when I’m wrong. I may not be a man’s man, and I may not care a lick about sports, but darned if I don’t love me some testosterone-laden competitiveness on film. And damned if sports don’t make one fine structure around which to frame a compelling, emotionally-stirring, and thought-provoking film.
Video: How does it look?
The film looked great on Blu-ray and, for whatever reason, this has now been selected for the 4K/Ultra HD treatment. This is a stylized film that employs a lot of color grading, over-saturated colors, diffused lighting, and (at times) blown-out contrast to convey the director’s vision. This can be a tricky look to replicate correctly, but the AVC encode here is nearly flawless. Some heavy grain can crop up in some of the lower-light shots, but I feel certain that this was the intent of these scenes, meant to lend the film a grittier, more documentary feel. It should be noted as well that, in this film at least, the stylistic choices really work for the story. With a film like Rocky Balboa, I personally felt that a style like this just wasn’t as appropriate since that film had such a nostalgic feel to it. But the film has such a fly-on-the-wall sensibility to it, with hand-held shots at every turn, that it really works. Skin tones really impress, with a naturalism that is extremely difficult to pull off given the hyper-stylized nature of the image. No DNR or edge enhancement issues detract, either. Only the (very) occasional instance of a solid block of pixels on the errant solid background in low lighting tick this one down from a perfect score. But these flaws are few, far between, and really don’t distract at all unless you’re squinting at your screen trying to find them as I was.
Audio: How does it sound?
There’s something about a boxing film that, for me, brings out the best in my home audio. Warrior has been blessed with a new Dolby Atmos track and let me just say that it’s second to none. What’s most impressive is how adeptly the lossless track shifts between the quiet moments and the louder ones with absolute ease and fluidity. There are scenes when you really have to listen to hear what’s happening. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s just that these characters tend to mumble at times. And yet, this audio is so good that you can hear a pin drop, and every line is crystal clear. When things turn to action, the difference is startling. One shot in particular of fireworks that immediately follows a quiet, reflective scene in the film actually startled me from my chair at one point. When the punches begin to fly during the fight scenes, we really feel them in our gut. This is really an outstanding presentation all around.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As is the case with most all of Lionsgate’s 4K titles, nothing new has been included, but the supplements are ported over from the Blu-ray (also included).
- Full Contact: Feature Length Enhanced Viewing Mode – This gives us a bit more behind the scenes information as the film plays in a smaller window in the background. This is interesting, but I personally preferred the commentary with its unobtrusive style to a full-screen deconstruction of the film.
- Feature Audio Commentary with Filmmakers and Actor Joel Edgerton – The feature commentary by director Gavin O’Connor, co-writer Anthony Tambakis, editor John Gilroy and Joel Edgerton. I tend to be a sucker for commentary tracks as they give me a great excuse to rematch a film from a new perspective, and this one’s very informative and engaging, with nary a silent spot to be found once it gets going.
- Redemption: Bringing Warrior To Life – This skates the running time between featurette and documentary, and mirrors that feeling in its mildly interesting but ultimately surface-level content. This isn’t a terrible making-of by any means, but a full-blown documentary would have gone a long way here.
- The Diner: Deleted Scene – A three minute scene with Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy.
- Cheap Shots: Gag Reel
- Brother vs. Brother: Anatomy of the Fight – A deconstruction of the final fight scene.
- Philosophy in Combat: Mixed Martial Arts Strategy – An informative look at mixed martial arts.
- Simply Believe: A Tribute to Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr. – A tribute to Tapout co-founder Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr.
The Bottom Line
Boxing movies are hit and miss, or maybe a more appropriate reference would be “duck and jab”. Or not. I’m not a boxer so forgive my misuse of the correct terms. But Warrior features some fine performances from all involved. I don’t quite see the need for the upgrade to 4K. This movie is shot in a way that doesn’t seem to really take advantage of the HDR/Dolby Vision. By all means if you don’t have this in your collection and are trying to build a 4K library – get this. Still, Blu-ray or 4K, this is one to be seen.