Warrior, come out and play

Since I’m writing a novel about mixed martial arts, I was excited when I first saw the trailer for Warrior. It looked like The Fighter, right down to the rivalry between brothers, except about MMA instead of boxing. I didn’t give much thought about whether the movie would be good or not; it didn’t matter. Anything that raises MMA’s profile is good for the sport, and good for the marketability of my novel!

I was surprised, then, to see lots of positive reviews. 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Three stars from Ebert.

From the trailer, I understood there would be two brothers that wind up fighting each other in an MMA tournament. What I didn’t expect is that I’d want them both to win.

In the “tournament” genre, it is customary to give the hero some financial reason why he must win. Brothers Tommy and Brendan each have perfectly noble reasons for needing the $5 million prize money. I didn’t like Tommy for most of the movie. I thought he was supposed to be the hero, but found Brendan to be the more likable brother. But watching the final fight, I hoped whichever brother won, he’d split the prize money, because really, wouldn’t $2.5 million be enough?

Giving the film complexity, both brothers are estranged from each other and from their recovering alcoholic father. For some reason, even though he’s really, really mean to his dad almost until the very end of the movie, Tommy asks him to train him for the big MMA tourney. (That was my only complaint. I felt bad for dad, played by Nick Nolte. Did they have to be so mean to him?) An interesting parallel, which I don’t know how many people will notice is that at one point, Tommy holds his father in a comforting manner that looks similar to a submission wrestling move we see later in the movie. Both times, the “embrace” moved me.

Although there are a lot of perhaps overused conventions at work here, Warrior is a good movie. I appreciate that neither of the heroes are “thugs” who must redeem themselves. They aren’t guys who get in street fights, and then learn how to channel their strength in the cage. They are a U.S. Marine and a physics teacher. The teacher, Brendan, gave up fighting because his wife didn’t want to raise their daughters in a house where “their father gets beat up for a living.”

Here’s the thing: there doesn’t have to be any shame in that, and I think this movie shows it.