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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema In Focus: ‘Warrior’ Is Raw Family Drama Disguised as Brutal Fight Film

The depth of storytelling makes director Gavin O'Connor's film powerful

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By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman |

3 Stars — Powerful

What makes Warrior a powerful film is its depth of storytelling. Although the basic plot of this fight film is to determine the toughest man on the planet, Gavin O’Connor both writes and directs a film that is far more nuanced.

The trailer reveals that the final “War on the Shore” is between two brothers, and the family out of which they come is pummeled with alcoholism, divorce, regret and rivalry while also attempting recovery, forgiveness, trust and reconciliation. This makes the film part Rocky and part Legends of the Fall, complete with a Russian fighter and a complex relationship between the brothers. Although the fight scenes dominate the action, the story engages viewers for whom fighting is of little interest.

The two brothers are Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy). The sons of an abusive alcoholic father named Paddy (Nick Nolte), the rage created by their childhood is only matched by their anger with each other.

The anger goes back to the moment when Brendan as the older 16-year-old brother chose to stay with his father when Tommy and their mother fled the home. What Brendan did not know was that their mother was sick and broke, and what Tommy did not know was that Brendan loved a young woman named Tess (Jennifer Morrison) who would become his wife.

When Tommy comes home from the war as an embittered Marine, Paddy is almost 1,000 days sober. Having turned to God by attending church and his Twelve-Step meetings, Paddy attempts to reconcile with him, but Tommy’s rage imprisons his heart. However, when Tommy discovers that there is a winner-takes-all tournament with a $5 million purse, he asks his father to train him once again, as he did in high school. Unknown to both Paddy and Tommy, Brendan has entered the same tournament.

We won’t share any more of the outcome, but the complexity of their relationships demonstrates the difficulties of fathers and sons, and brothers with brothers, as well as that of marriage as Brendan and Tess struggle financially. In addition, the question of faith, forgiveness, trust and reconciliation are powerfully presented from a primarily masculine perspective, something most films do not understand or authentically present.

In addition, the multigenerational impact of alcohol addiction could not be more powerfully presented. From the destruction that occurs to the soul to the longing that sons have for their father, the abuse of both sons and spirits is realistic and painful to watch. That Paddy was damaged by his own experience as a Marine during wartime makes the title of Warrior all the more enlightening.

In the final analysis, Warrior is a story of pain and courage with authentic exploration of abuse and forgiveness in a way that gives all of us a better understanding of how each of us battle to find our way in this life. In that way, it is a film worthy to be viewed. Click here for a movie trailer.


» It’s not easy living together in families, but when alcohol abuse impairs either one or both of the parents, then such a home becomes a literal hell. What do you think we can do to protect children born into such abuse?

» One of the strengths of the story is that we are left to wonder what happened when Brendan and Tommy walk into their future together. What do you imagine? Did they reconcile? Did they share the money? Did they forgive Paddy? Did they become a true healthy and loving family? Why do you answer as you do?

» Do you agree that people want to know who the toughest person is on the planet? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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