Warrior is about two Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters who are brothers and their father. The younger brother is a prodigal son of sorts, who, after fourteen years on the run, has returned home. The older brother is a married with two daughters high school physics teacher about to lose his house who takes up fighting again to earn some extra money which subsequently loses him his job. The father is a recovering alcoholic, one thousand days dry, who abused the boys and their mother when they were young. The boys are destined from the film’s opening to end up fighting in the same MMA competition, and the story flies toward that conclusion like a jump-kick, leaping every plot hole that tries to get in its way.
Watching Warrior requires a continued suspension of disbelief. One must overlook the many convenient coincidences that make the story work. There are more instances of “this scene is happening because we need this scene to get us to the final, unavoidable confrontation” than should be allowed in any movie trying to tell a believable story.
Fortunately for Warrior, it is not trying to tell a believable story. Warrior is all pathos and catharsis. Warrior is a thinnly drawn way for its audience to work out its negative emotions about the mortgage crisises and wars of recent years. The characters are drawn with such broad strokes and given such blatant motivations, the audience very easily attaches to the characters’ stories and roots for or against them. At its best, this form of storytelling is illuminative, like parables and fables. At its worst, it is manipulative, like melodrama and propaganda.
Warrior is somewhere between parable and propaganda. The film might have approached parable if its resolution was clearer or its subject was less complex. It would also be dangerous propaganda if it was less compassionate and well-intentioned. I would rather it be one of the two, because either would be easier to understand and dialog with, but it’s not either, so I left the theater conflicted and confused.
Warrior is thrilling and intense, but it is also difficult and disturbing. Never in all my years of watching combat films like Rocky, The Fighter, or anything starring Jackie Chan have I so wanted a character to win a fight. For all its maudlin melodrama, Warrior is effective in getting its audience to care about its characters.
But never in my life have I wanted one person to injure another so badly. I never want to feel that again.
MMA and UFC fighting are unfortunately complex cultural phenomena, and Warrior carries all that complexity into the theater. It also unfortunately doesn’t critique the cage. I do not go as far as saying that MMA and UFC are morally bankrupt enterprises. There is an element of physical combat in all of our sports, and that physicality is part of what makes them compelling, but there is also a brutality represented in MMA and UFC fighting that ought to give us pause. Most distressingly, and, perhaps, most fittingly, Warrior‘s most cathartic moments are also its most brutal.
Warrior tries so hard to be about forgiveness and reconciliation, but it has no idea how to get there. All it knows how to do is beat people down and “hug it out” when the all the fight is gone out of everyone. Warrior is juvenile and stunted, seemingly stuck on the playground when its classmates have grown up and learned how to converse.
Many very vocal segments of the Christian population wholeheartedly embrace MMA and UFC fighting. They see it as a way to appeal to young men, who they say are the least represented demographic in U.S. churches. Another segment vehemently opposes cage fighting because of the brutality it seems to promote. Neither side seems willing to talk to the other. Like the fighters themselves and their fans, cage fighting is more complex than simple acceptance or rejection. I would like to refer you to an excellent article from a former cage fighter on the subject.
Warrior is a thrilling yet deeply flawed and disturbing film. I cannot recommend it, but I cannot reject it either. I do ask though that if you see it, think about what you are watching. The issues presented are not as simple as the movie makes them out to be.