Early Reaction: Gavin O'Connor's MMA Film 'Warrior' is Extraordinary

April 1, 2011

Gavin O'Connor's Warrior

Yesterday I caught the first public screening (besides test screenings) at CinemaCon in Las Vegas of a new film from director Gavin O'Connor called Warrior. It's a drama starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as brothers and former MMA fighters who return to make a comeback in an MMA tournament called Sparta. We were actually the first website to break the news that O'Connor was working on this project nearly three years ago and now I'm more than happy to be the first website to tell you that this film is absolutely incredible. We're only just finishing March, but Warrior is my favorite film that I've seen in 2011 so far.

As this was an early "unfinished" cut of the film (which is slated for release September 9th from Lionsgate) this isn't a formal review and I'm simply just voicing my initial reaction, because this movie really hit me hard (pun definitely intended) and I need to write about it. Maybe it was the complex yet beautifully crafted story about brothers, since I have an older brother whom I love dearly yet occasionally feud with; maybe it was the three impeccable lead performances; maybe it was all of that (and more) combined, because Gavin O'Connor has delivered his best movie to date and could even get some Oscar recognition as long as Lionsgate can craft a strong campaign this fall during its release.

Warrior also stars Nick Nolte as the estranged father of the two brothers. Like any truly fantastic screenplay, the film doesn't waste time unnecessarily explaining any backstory. It jumps in quickly as Tom Conlon (Hardy), a very reserved yet hard edged, doesn't-take-any-shit individual, sits waiting on the doorstep of his father's home in Pittsburgh in the opening scene. It's the first time he's seen his father in 14 years and he wants nothing to do with him, as his mother died while he was away and there are hints of a sordid past, since Paddy (Nolte) is a recovering alcoholic nearing 1000 days of being sober. But this is just the beginning, as we soon learn that Tom wants his father to train him as an MMA fighter once again.

Brendan Conlon (Edgerton) on the other hand has already distanced himself from his father, moving away from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, marrying his high school sweetheart (Jennifer Morrison) and starting a new family and a new life as a high school physics teacher. But due to the financial crunch, he decides he must start fighting again, and the two brothers end up on similar paths which inevitably will converge at the climax. I won't say much more than that, as the experience of watching the story play out was exhilarating. I found myself completely lost in the film, sitting on the edge of my seat watching in awe during every fight, and feeling deep down every emotional beat.

This is one of those films that really pulled me in and had me so invested in the characters that I was actually tearing up during multiple scenes because they were so emotional to watch. It's a bit odd to say that about an MMA film, but at the same time, the fights were energetic and powerful, some of the best MMA fights I've ever seen in a film. It would be cliched but completely appropriate to call this the Rocky of the modern MMA world and I hope that's the acclaim it continues to receive once it hits theaters this fall. An Oscar campaign is unquestionably in order as well, as Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy (especially) should easily be able to secure at least a nomination for their phenomenal performances.

I honestly can't say enough good things about Warrior. It's not a perfect film and Gavin O'Connor has plenty of time to continue to make tweaks in order to get even closer to that perfection, but to me it's already one of 2011's standouts. I've seen Tom Hardy in Bronson and Inception and love the actor, but in Warrior he really does give one of his greatest performances, one that will not soon be forgotten and will hopefully earn him some well-deserved awards acclaim. Beyond that, Warrior takes MMA fighting, typically a sport that only violence-loving people really enjoy, and wraps the fights around a wonderful dramatic story around two brothers each fighting for their own reasons.

If you haven't already, stop and add Warrior to your list of must see films in 2011. You're certain to hear plenty more about it as we near its release in September. I'm already anxious to see it again, as I know it may have an even greater impact once I see it in its finished form. There have been numerous boxing/wrestling movies over the last few years (Win Win, Redbelt, The Wrestler) but I think Warrior steps up to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those others and may even be better. I do know that at the very least, I have not seen a better movie in 2011 than Warrior, including everything I saw at the Sundance Film Fest.

Find more posts: CinemaCon, Feat, Review



excited for this!

Nick S. on Apr 1, 2011


Man I can't wait to see this!

Cruzer on Apr 1, 2011


Hahah i cant wait for it! i was in it

frankie on Apr 1, 2011


extra work?

Nick S. on Apr 1, 2011


yea. I ended up being in it 3 times. Been waiting for the release forever. And now im pumped it turned out so well.

Frankie on Apr 2, 2011



Anonymous on Apr 1, 2011


Hardy. Best Actor Alive. The end.

Vito on Apr 1, 2011


This movie was already in my must see!

Rooneyman on Apr 2, 2011


Wow the reaction to this film has been so positive! Its almost too good to be true. Can anyone comment on the accents though? Tom Hardy is English and Joel Edgerton is Australian so I'm curious about how well their accents are. Although apparently the film is good either way! I honestly can't wait to see it! September is truly too far away!

Rubydreamer on Apr 2, 2011


I was able to catch this at CinemaCon this year as well. I didn't notice Hardy's accent one time throughout the movie. There was only one scene in particular I can remember hearing Edgerton's. Overall I agree with Alex. It was a truly gripping/moving film. Definitely the best I've seen so far this year.

Chdchristopher on Apr 3, 2011


Who gives a shit about accents; is that really the priority for american audiences?

overwatch on Apr 3, 2011


Its VERY distracting when you can tell someone has a fake American/British/French or whatever accent. I had only heard Hardy's american accent once and it was slightly awkward, so it was just a little bit of fucking curiosity. And no, its not a priority. It just so happens that everything I wanted to know about the film had been answered accept this one question. My priority is a) the film is good. b) There won't be anything to distract me from completely enjoying the film. Also accents are extremely important in hollywood. You don't make it far without a credible american accent. And its not just American audiences (btw I'm Canadian tyvm). English audiences had the same concern when RDJ wanted to play Sherlock Holmes or Renee Zellweger and Bridget Jones.

Rubydreamer on Apr 4, 2011


I would image so because it was filmed in... you guessed it... AMERICA.

John Doe on Apr 7, 2011


I read the script and it was excellent and they casted the movie perfectly so I am happy to hear this. I think Tom Hardy is easily one of the best living actors. His performance in Bronson was on the same level as Robert De Niro in Raging Bull.

Visionaries rule! on Apr 2, 2011


Looks great, and I agree that Hardy's an amazing actor. It's just there's this one boxer movie every year, that's supposed to be the best movie of the year and stuff (nevertheless they're mostly great, even if not the best), like "Million Dollar Baby", "The Wrestler", "The Fighter", and now "The Warrior", featuring at least one Oscar-worthy acting performance. It 's just something I noticed and it (the subject) gets a little tiring for me. Kind of like that old cliché, that if you wanted to have an Best Actor/-ess Oscar you had to be in a WWII-movie.

Terry Craig on Apr 2, 2011


"MMA Fighting typically a sport that only violence-loving people really enjoy..." Alex, As a journalist, if you are not knowledgeable about a subject just admit it. Please don't make blanket generalizations about actual fans of the sport, based on preconceptions.

MartinBalsam on Apr 5, 2011


It's no so much much the violence that attracts me to MMA. It's watching how the different styles of martial arts training plays out. Like a physical chess game.

jiujitsu dude on Apr 18, 2011


First off, a bit sceptical to write here, since this was posted april first...but anyhow: This is a very nice review(with some odd remarks) but might I suggest Firstshowing makes it a 'standard' that they add a 'score' ? Like, is this a 9/10? Maybe someone else other than Alex Billington thought it was only OK, and gave it a 6/10, ect. Would be great if more than 1 could toss out a score on each review(if they have seen the flick, ofc). I'll still read the entire review, and not only skip to the score at the bottom, but Firstshowing hardly tosses the 9/10's out in the air, so when you drop a 9/10 (or even a 10/10, not sure I have seen higher than 9.5/10? ) its sorta stating a final gesture to a long review. "...this film is absolutely incredible. We're only just finishing March, but Warrior is my favorite film that I've seen in 2011 so far" "I do know that at the very least, I have not seen a better movie in 2011 than Warrior, including everything I saw at the Sundance Film Fest" This does sound amazing, but what score would you give it??

David Banner on Apr 7, 2011


In 2006 I was in a screenwriting class. A Greek guy (Dimitris?) had a script called "Tapout" about 2 estranged brothers who meet in the octagon.

Ta Kimbia on May 1, 2011


I have to agree with @ Alex Billington . I saw this film at CinemaCon, and again through my line of work (it's even better the second time). The writing is superb (with no exposition; not one bit). The performances are exquisite. Every one of my colleagues (no exaggeration on 'every') who has seen this movie has loved it (no exaggeration on 'loved'). Both men and women. You don't see that happen too often...

Craig on May 10, 2011


I was lucky enough to catch this movie about a month ago in a private media screening, with a friend who works for an MMA news outlet. GO SEE THIS MOVIE!!! It's a great movie with alot of heart and action. Great fight sequences and all of the MMA is pretty authentic. Now I can't wait to BUY IT!

Jay on Aug 30, 2011


If it's about Marines - It's got to be great!!!! The Gunny "Semper-Fi"

The Gunny on Sep 2, 2011


I just watched the sneak preview of this movie. I expected it to be ..ok. I have read the great reviews on it and love Tom Hardy. Probably the biggest push to make me want to see this movie. I walked into the theater. 90% of the crowd were men. A good 80% of those men looked like guys you could tell were huge MMA fans. I thought to myself this should be interesting see thier reactions to the movie. My opinion, it was by far the best movie I have seen in ages. The fight scenes were great but the whole story line between the family was really well done. All three of the actors did a great job. I saw someone ask earlier about the accents. The guys did a good job. You couldnt tell one was a Brit and the other an Aussie at all. I have never ever been to a movie where I heard the rest of the audience so engrossed in the plot. I heard so many people sniffling during some emotional scenes and saw many guys wiping thier eyes. In fact when the movie was over there were a group of tough looking guys in front of us still sitting there wiping thier eyes. Duringa  bunch of the fight scenes I was sitting on the edge of my seat. Funny I went into the movie with a headache and walked out just repeating the word WOW. Who ever was in charge at Lionsgate to promote this movie should be fired. To many people out there have not heard of this movie. 

Holly on Sep 5, 2011


Dear Gavin O'Connor the so called "director" who directer warrior. WHAT THE HELLL IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!!! How could u let a beast like Tom Hardy get beaten by an Irish Lepricorn called Brendon! Tom Hardy choke slammed the world champion and then loses against someone who narrowly lost every game!! Just wondering... What the hell is wrong with you!!!

Maddaaaawwwggg on Mar 28, 2013

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