Friday, September 21, 2012

You must be THIS manly to watch this movie

In this picture: Warrior actor Joel Edgerton (left) and... who else?  Ahmet Zappa (right)

William Friedkin once said that the MPAA ratings system is all wrong.  Yes, apparently he thinks there should be a rating system to alert less discriminating families that might blame Hollywood for warping their childrens' minds, and maybe he's on to something with his suggestion for giving movies a "D" for dumb.  Warrior works hard to avoid earning its 'D', but alas, it seems to merit one.  However, for some reason my fragile world was profoundly shaken by an article titled "The Eternal Adolescence of Pop Culture."  Just the title, mind you; I didn't actually read the article.  Friedkin's system could easily add "A" for adolescent (e.g., every Adam Sandler pic) and "T" for testosterone (e.g., Stallone and Warrior).
At the intersection of Rocky I and The Company Men lives writer/director Gavin O'Connor's Warrior, which replaces boxing with mixed martial arts, and the grassroots beginnings of Rocky with our current Bain-fueled downsizing of America... well, arguably that doesn't change so much.  Spoiler alert: I'm going to gleefully trash the movie, so save yourselves now.  The Village Voice and The Onion leave me no choice: somebody's got to do it.  Let's leave aside for now the director's cameo as the billionaire ex-hedge fund manager who funds the big MMA contest called "Sparta." 
This epic drama starts off earnestly enough with Nick Nolte as "Paddy" Conlon, a notorious trainer of fighters back in his heyday, who sacrificed his family life for professional clout.  Enter his two unforgiving sons: one Tommy Riordan/Conlon (Tom Hardy of Dark Knight Rises fame), a childless pill-popping Iraq war deserter who's a hell of a fighter, and one Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a married with kids high school physics teacher who was a hell of a fighter once upon a time, but who is driven to taking up the pastime once again for economic reasons.  Usually the hero in the movie gives the prize money to charity, but the recession has finally come to Hollywood, at least to a few films.
The two Conlon boys reconnect with Dad but choose not to forgive him for the sins of the past.  Nolte sees his grandkids from afar and is reminded by Brendan to contact either via phone or mail.  As for Tommy, well, it seems that all could have been forgiven if Dad would just have a damn drink.  Dad's 1000 days sober, so he chooses not to.  This leads to fresh enmity, but Tommy still needs a trainer for the big fight, and Dad's the best, so he'll do it Dad's way, but Dad's still not forgiven.  At least, not for now.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, as I did... is this where this mess is headed?  The two brothers are going to end up in the ring together?  I hate to ruin it for you, but making a movie is still an expensive venture these days, despite digital video, and really, wouldn't it be just as bad if they didn't end up in the ring together?  My viewing companion couldn't take it, and they fast-forwarded through the big final fight scene.  As for me, I'm even more stand-offish.  I still take to heart what that one Simpsons episode did to the mixed martial arts phenomenon, showing it as the result of our increasingly separate culture: streets empty, every guy at home glued to the set, watching two beefy guys pound each other with more freedom than boxers until the tendons in their legs get broken.  I don't care for the sport that much.  My viewing companion was a little more discerning and pointed out that the guys that Brendan were taking on were younger, stronger, faster... but you know how it is.  They're not the protagonist, so they must lose, and rather redundantly, IMHO.  Always with that arm move.  And you know why Brandon's coach uses Beethoven to train his men?  Because it's classy, and the sport by itself could use a little.
Some of the drama rings true, and Nolte was nominated for his gruff performance.  For a second, I thought maybe it was Josh Hartnett with prosthetics.  It was just that good!  Nolte hits his high note when he finally takes to the bottle again.  At least the filmmakers didn't go down the route of having Nolte appear at ringside when in fact he died of a heart attack a few minutes before backstage.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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