Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What I Saw: Warrior (84th Oscar Race)

What I Saw: Warrior

“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but archetypes can kill you.”

The war hero. The bread-winning father. Grown men beating each other to a pulp. Anyone who has seen the trailer for Warrior knows that the film promises hetero-masculine archetypes galore. The movie’s action sequences certainly live up to that promise. But the heart of the film, and its emotional impact, come from the characters’ failures, and their inability to live up to the archetypes that have been set for them.

Masculinity has betrayed each of these characters in a way that they can’t understand. Joel Edgerton’s respectable job as a physics teacher doesn’t pay enough to make the mortgage payments for his family. Tom Hardy’s days as a marine didn’t materialize into the promised glory and honor. Nick Nolte’s life choices have left him alone and disconnected from his family. Unable to accept that the archetypes might be flawed, the characters throw themselves even more deeply into them, ultimately leading them to hand-to-hand combat in the fighting ring (or in this case, the mixed martial arts cage.)

I’m not very familiar with this sport, but the rules as portrayed in the movie are perfect for this story. A single elimination tournament reflects the characters’ inability to forgive themselves or each other. A winner-takes-all jackpot reinforces their need for competition. There’s even a Russian bad guy for the patriotic Americans to face off against.

But by far the most interesting directorial decision that Gavin O’Connor made was in the abrupt stylistic changes that occurred between the scenes that were inside or outside of the arena. While in some ways it distracted from the pacing of the film, it did give me much to think about afterward. Inside the arena, the hype surrounding the masculine archetype was on full display: cheering crowds, singing marines, obnoxious announcers, an up-tempo rhythmic score, and fast-paced action. Outside the arena, however, the characters faced silence, loneliness, waiting. This distinction highlighted the ways that masculinity is just a show, a performance. It can’t exist without an audience. While the characters have no problem facing the pain of the physical violence they endure (and cause), we see clearly that it is their expectations of masculinity that are really hurting them.

In the end, [NOTE: SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE ENDING] all turns out in a way that we might expect, and a way that the film’s archetypes demand. The eldest brother wins, because that’s how patriarchy works. The youngest brother loses --not just the fight, but potentially his freedom as well. The father watches in admiration from the sidelines, metaphorically passing the torch to his eldest son. All of the character arcs are wrapped up, but if you listen carefully, you can still hear Nolte’s words echoing a message to our male-dominated society: “Turn Back! Turn Back! We’ve already lost!”

Oscar Chances:

All three actors deserve to be in the conversation, but I think Nolte has the best chance at a nomination. Hollywood loves to reward older actors, and this role of an alcoholic father seeking redemption could be right up their alley.

Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte (currently unranked, but likely to be listed in the top 10, and possibly the top 5, in the next set of predictions)
Lead Actor: Tom Hardy (currently ranked 35, may move up as other films fail)
Supporting Actor: Joel Edgerton (currently ranked 40, may move to lead in next round of predictions)
Cinematography: Masanobu Takayanagi (currently ranked 26)
Sound Mixing (currently ranked 27)
Visual Effects (currently ranked 37)
Sound Editing (currently ranked 41)
Original Score: Mark Isham (currently ranked 44)
Film Editing: Sean Albertson, Matt Chesse, John Gilroy and Aaron Marshall (currently ranked 46, likely to move up in next set of predictions)
Best Picture (currently ranked 50, will move up in the next round of predictions, but unlikely to be a threat for a nomination)
Best Director: Gavin O’Connor (currently unranked, but may appear in next predictions)
Original Screenplay: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman (currently unranked, but may appear in next predictions)

My Lamb Score: 4 out of 5 Lambs.  
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Read more of my reviews HERE.


  1. I'm looking forward to competing with you during the Oscar season. I reminisce over the show a good amount - and have some solid knowledge of predicting and such.

    Oh, nice review of "Warrior", too.

  2. Thanks! I look forward to reading your predictions. It's my first year doing it, so I'm always looking to learn from folks with experience.

  3. Great review. The cliches are there but Edgerton, Hardy, and Nolte rise this above being just than just Rocky with MMA. It's a well-made and emotionally gripping story that brings out some real gut-wrenching moments as well as the great knock-outs.