“Warrior.” Have some pecs with your hyperbole.
I watched this movie last night.
Mr Wonderful’s out of town, so my solo evening was spent on the couch with a beer, a jar of pickles, and a Mixed Martial Arts movie. The only way it could have been manlier was if I’d sat around in just my boxers.
I thought I’d paint my nails (didn’t). I thought I’d bake something (didn’t). I thought I’d sip some wine (didn’t), take a bubble bath (didn’t), catch up on my E! programming (didn’t).
I spent the evening “in the cage” with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton.
So, yeah, I’ll give ya my review of the movie, but first: how did I not know who this Joel Edgerton guy is? On paper, I’d describe him as what a person would look like if you shook up the DNA of Stephen Moyer, Bryan Cranston, and Sam Worthington. The result of that genetic soup is…..Super Hot. Except don’t image search him: most of those photos are Before The Hot, when he was either too pretty or too squishy. Dude needs some scruff to keep the Stephen Moyer genes from speaking too loudly. Turns out he’s going to be in the Baz Luhrmann “Gatsby” reboot, so there’s that to look forward to (er, except that I’d imagine he’ll be operating in Zero Scruff zone for that iteration, so maybe we’re not so excited about it). Either way: my short list of favorites (Statham, Meloni, Worthington) might have just earned a junior member.
But enough about that guy. How was the movie?
Oh, come on: it’s an Ultimate Fighting Family Flick, how do you THINK it was? Yeah. It was like that.
Synopsis: Two brothers with daddy issues (and brother issues, and mommy issues, and abandonment issues, and savior-complex issues) take to the cage in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, mostly because they’re both money hungry.
And, fair warning, I’m going to spoiler the daylights out of this.
Here’s the thing: this Gavin O’Connor guy who created (wrote, directed, produced) the movie *really* likes to stack the deck. The guy doesn’t do subtlety. It’s a movie about dudes getting in a cage and punching each other in the head until one of them passes out or taps out.
Subtle is not in the lexicon.
They’ll tear shoulders from sockets before they’ll do nuance — SO — it’s not surprising that the amped-up factor forces its way out of the cage and into the character development as well.
For instance: these family members aren’t just sort of estranged from one another, they’re Super-Estranged. This movie is going to open-palm-slap you in the jaw with just how mangled the relationships are. It’s not enough that one brother didn’t like the other brother’s girlfriend, he doesn’t know his brother married the girl. And those cute nieces that he’s never met? Those little girls are “just some people he doesn’t know. They mean nothing to him.”
The parents of these fighters didn’t just split, either. Nope. Mother literally took one of the boys and left in the night and they didn’t see each other for decades. DECADES. And when she died? Of COURSE no one told the other family members. She’d been dead for YEARS before the other brother found out.
Dad wasn’t just abusive and boozed up, he was BLACKED-OUT-AND-HALLUCINATING-ABOUT-THE-OLD-COMBAT-DAYS-drunk.
The domestic brother isn’t just struggling financially, he’s working three jobs, his daughter needed heart surgery, his house is being foreclosed upon, he’s working as a science teach in public school, AND he’s cage-fighting in parking lots on the side.
The less-domestic brother isn’t just a PTSD-afflicted ex-marine, he’s ALSO a war hero who Ripped The Door off a Tank to save some other soldiers’ lives. AND he’s committed to supporting the widows of fallen comrades. AND he went AWOL and goes by a different name. AND he has a pill problem (a “carries around four bottles at all times” pill problem).
And when things come to verbal blows with daddy in the hours before the final fight: we don’t wind up with a vodka-fueled reconciliation in standard movie-issue dialogue order. NOPE. We end up with a crying daddy cradled in the finally-forgiving embrace of the disaffected son in The Ultimate down-your-throat role reversal. Oh — they BOTH have haunting memories of war against which they’re self-medicating? AHA! You couldn’t have figured that out on your own, right?
Nope — we have to have the fetal-position breakdown.
We have to have son smoothing hair off of drunk daddy’s face while he lays in his child’s lap (nevermind that what we’re supposed to interpret as tender is actually more of a demonstration of abusive relationship dynamics, where the abuser and abused come together when the abused is at their most broken and the abuser can play the hero….).
Oh — and the odds against either of these brothers winning the Spartan MMA Championship? Not just a hundred to one — the odds are like a HUNDRED MILLION to one.
So, with those odds, and the filmmaker’s hyperbole-boner, stands to reason that not just ONE brother would beat the odds and make it to the final round: BOTH brothers beat the odds and make it to the finals.
Yeah, baby: it’s brother v. brother in the cage. The two underdogs no one has EVER heard of are going fist-to-fist in the ultimate smash-fest.
And to shove that down your throat a little more: of COURSE the bigger, stronger, more ab-tastic brother isn’t the one who comes out on top. NOOOO, because that would be predictable. That would lack shock-value. That would be too easy. NO, you have to take the suburban physics teacher Dad half of the pair and hoist him up on the shoulders of all the other competitors.
Not good enough?
How about we have the broken brother carried out of the ring in the arms of the victor-brother? How’s that for the final sequence????
You get the picture.
The dog slept through the entire thing, amazingly.
The movie does get points for using music by The National in a few key scenes. I always thought that if I created (wrote, directed, produced) a movie, I’d contract The National to score the entire movie. I’d love an entire film with nothing but moody music from The National.
With all of that drama, are we surprised that I actually really liked the movie? Because I did like it.
Much like the popular “stripper with a heart of gold” archetype that filmmakers love so much, this was the “fighter with a heart of gold” take on the same thing. “Aw, he’s a burly guy giving another guy a beat down in a fenced ring, BUT: his entire physics class is out there, cheering him on!”
It’s supposed to humanize the violence. Surprise, surprise: it does. Doesn’t hurt that (aside from Nick Nolte), there was some burly eye candy in pretty much every scene. And, surprisingly, since this netted a PG-13 rating, the actual violence was pretty tame. A few punches, a few blood dribbles on cheeks — mostly it was a lot of sweaty-looking tangles of men knotted up on the mat, trying to twist one another’s elbows until they tap out.
Want a review from some actual MMA enthusiasts? Go HERE. The Fighting Types seem to think this was a complex story, with lots of loaded, if unspoken communication. Meh — that’s a stretch. It’s a guy making a fighting movie. Snappy dialogue not really part of the recipe. I mean: mouth guards, dude. Drool-speak.
Anyway — it’s on Netflix. It’s a long one (140 minute or so?), but fun. In that gritty, sweaty, overwrought way.