: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Nick NolteDirector
: Gavin O'ConnorRated
: M, Violence, mature themes and infrequent coarse languageRunning Time
: 134 minutes
Rising stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton command the screen as two estranged brothers facing the fight of a lifetime in Lionsgate's WARRIOR, a moving, inspirational action drama from acclaimed director Gavin O'Connor (Miracle).
Haunted by a tragic past, Marine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns home for the first time in fourteenyears to enlist the help of his father (Nick Nolte) to train for Sparta, the biggest winner-takes-all eventin mixed martial arts history. A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy blazes a path toward thechampionship while his brother, Brendan (Edgerton), an ex-fighter-turned teacher, returns to the ringin a desperate bid to save his family from financial ruin. But when Brendan's unlikely, underdog risesets him on a collision course with the unstoppable Tommy, the two brothers must finally confronteach other and the forces that pulled them apart, facing off in the most soaring, soul stirring, andunforgettable climax that must be seen to be believed.
A rousing ode to redemption, reconciliation and the power of the human spirit, WARRIOR is also amoving testament to the enduring bonds of family. WARRIOR stars Tom Hardy (the upcoming TheDark Knight Rises, Inception, Black Hawk Down), Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, Star Wars:Episode III), Jennifer Morrison ("House", Star Trek) and Nick Nolte (Tropic Thunder, The Thin RedLine). The film is directed by Gavin O'Connor; screenplay by Gavin O'Connor & Anthony Tambakis& Cliff Dorman and story by Gavin O'Connor & Cliff Dorfman.
Brother Vs Brother: Anatomy of a Fight
Cheap Shots: Gag Reel
Blu-ray RRP: $49.95
ABOUT THE PRODUCTIONWhat Do You Fight For?
That is the central question of director Gavin O'Connor's WARRIOR. The movie is an intenseglimpse into the world of a sport never before shown like this on film. More than that though, it'san intense glimpse into a family's journey from brokenness to reparation, and into the hearts oftwo brothers - one fighting for his country, the other for his family - both tapping into immensestores of vigor and courage.
WARRIOR thrives on the juxtaposition of its portrayal of something as contemporary, infectious,and specific as the phenomenon that is mixed martial arts with a story that is thoroughly classic, astory of family. In fact, mano-a-mano chronicles of estranged brothers confronting one anotherare one of the oldest themes in literature, and telling one in such a fresh setting was O'Connor'sprimary inspiration for making the film. While the movie was indeed an opportunity for him torealistically dramatize a not-yet-mainstream sport with a major mystique, the story is really forand about "people who live warrior lives," - everyday heroes fighting everyman fights for betteropportunities and better relationships.
The start of the film finds Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) back in the orbit of a broken family he'dgiven up on years ago. When he and his mother escaped his abusive father Paddy (Nick Nolte),his brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) stayed behind to be close to his high school girlfriend Tess(Jennifer Morrison), to whom he is now married. Though Paddy and Tommy have made a patchytruce in order to train together once again, communication between the brothers is nonexistentwhen they both make a surprise ascent up the rungs of the nationally televised Sparta tournament.The matches, explains O'Connor, are the backdrop to "a story about two brothers on a collisioncourse who have to deal with their past in the present day, in a cage, communicating with theirfists to rectify a very painful situation."
Although by facing off the brothers are ultimately able to break through many years of pent uphostility and regret, each has more than their fraternal relationship at stake in the tournament.Each really needs to win the giant cash prize, though for very different reasons. Brendan's familyhas been hit hard by the economic crisis and he and Tess are in deep debt on their modest house.Having exhausted all other avenues, Brendan, a longtime high school teacher, reluctantly revisitshis distant past and begins moonlighting in small local underground fights, hoping to win enoughmoney to stay in the house for another month while they can figure out a viable solution. Whenhis fighting gets him suspended from his teaching job, a comeback that began in parking lots outof desperation for quick extra cash morphs into a personal crusade: to be taken seriously as afighter despite his age and long absence from the sport, and to push himself as far as he canpossibly go.
Tommy, on the other hand, is a lone wolf. He joined the Marine Corps after his mother's deathand has been drifting and falling into trouble since he returned from Iraq. When we first meethim, Tommy's past is a mystery and his motives are inscrutable. But as the story unfolds, welearn he made a promise to a fallen comrade to take care of his family in the event of his death.Now, he is fighting for the money to fulfill that promise. Should he win the $5 million grandprize at Sparta, he has pledged to give it all to the now single mother and small children hisformer friend left behind.
Balancing the audience's sympathies and alliances between the brothers was one of the biggestchallenges inherent in the filmmaking. With both of them fighting for something so important, asO'Connor puts it, "you're rooting for Tommy to keep winning, and you're rooting for Brendan tokeep winning." But then, the audience is faced with a decision: who they root for when thebrothers finally face each other. In O'Connor's mind, despite Tommy's noble motives forentering the tournament, the trick to the movie is that the audience has to be ready to see Tommylose, which for him is also actually to win. He elaborates, "Tommy's win is losing, because he'sso spiritually bankrupt. He needs to die at the hands of his brother to be reborn. It's very OldTestament storytelling in the most contemporary way."
In many ways, the project was a second-nature stop on O'Connor's filmmaking trajectory. Manyof his colleagues on the film see WARRIOR as sitting firmly at the intersection of the sentimentsand stories at the heart of "Miracle" and "Pride and Glory." "Gavin brought an energy and apopulist quality to 'Miracle' that had you standing on your feet cheering at the end of the movie,despite the fact that you knew exactly what was going to happen," explains producer GregO'Connor. "He's an All-American college linebacker. He understands camaraderie, how sportswork. 'Pride and Glory' was sort of an evolution of Gavin's style - a very intense, muscular copmovie, a hard 'R' where 'Miracle' was meant for a broad audience." Greg O'Connor points outthat WARRIOR combines the best of both of these films. "We get the investment in the sportand the on-your-feet cheering response from 'Miracle,' but also the drama - the story of a fathersonrelationship getting torn apart and put back together again -, with some of the grit of 'Prideand Glory.' That makes this the perfect movie for Gavin."
Another thing that made this film the perfect fit for O'Connor was his credibility in the fightworld, after having produced the acclaimed 2003 HBO documentary "The Smashing Machine:The Life and Times of Mark Kerr," which took a hard look at the life of MMA fighter Kerr in andout of the ring, as he battled his own demons and attempted to hold his personal life togetherwhile traveling the world as a mixed martial arts professional. The film was noted especially forpresenting Kerr as an intelligent man who made a calculated decision to pursue a career in aphysically dangerous sport. The honest portrayal is what resonated with so many in theprofessional fight community, which led to their support of O'Connor's desire to make a fictionalfilm set in their world. Says JJ Perry, the film's stunt coordinator and fight choreographer,"'Smashing Machine' is my favorite documentary of all time. It really captures what MMA is,and it came out before the sport was popular. I knew immediately that if WARRIOR was in thesame hands, it was with someone who understood and would do justice to what we love asstuntmen, martial artists and fighters. That's what really got us here."
O'Connor's original, enduring story idea was one about two brothers who haven't seen each otherin fourteen years and end up fighting for the world championship, both coming up as extremeunderdogs. Although on paper the story might sound farfetched, the door to the room whereAnthony Tambakis and Gavin wrote bore a sign with the Aristotle quote "A convincingimpossibility is better than an unconvincing possibility." To them, this meant that in the world offiction, anything is possible if it's told truthfully. Despite starting in two extraordinary sets ofcircumstances and meeting in an against-all-odds scenario at the film's climax, the brothers'journey has a deep-seated veracity. Tambakis drew inspiration from the real life examples of theWilliams sisters facing off at Wimbledon, the likely eventuality of the Manning brothers playingagainst one another in the Super Bowl, and the Ukraine's Heavyweight Champion Klitschkobrothers. "It seems impossible, yet it isn't impossible. That was our job," he explains, of makingthe seemingly unlikely feel absolutely authentic.
That kind of artful storytelling is exactly what lends the movie an appeal beyond sport-specificfans or even general sports fans. Although WARRIOR offers a glimpse into the world of thesport, it was made for a general audience, a huge portion of which will no doubt be completelyunfamiliar with of it. Not a problem, as O'Connor explains, "If you don't know it technically,you're going to get it emotionally, because every fight has a story. And the dynamic of the storywithin each fight is very clear. It's as simple as, 'I'm rooting for him. And I know that if hishand goes up, he won. If the other guy taps, that guy lost.'" A viewer may not understand armbars and grappling techniques, but it doesn't matter because they understand the stakes of eachfight. The fighting is contextualized and dramatized very clearly. Adds co-writer Tambakis, "Totalk about WARRIOR as a fight movie is like saying "Rocky" is a boxing movie, or "BreakingAway" is a bicycle movie, or "Hoosiers" is a basketball movie. They're not. They're characterpieces that are set in a specific world, like all good stories are set in a specific world." Audienceswalk away from all satisfying movies learning something about a world they previously knewnothing about, and this film is no different.
While making the movie meant to capture so many specifics of a rarely-portrayed sport andsports culture, the obvious question would be how to cast the film-with real fighters who wouldbe trained to act, or with professional actors who would be taught to fight. For O'Connor, therewas no question. The emotional complexity of the roles demanded experienced actors.Convinced that a traditional actor-director rapport and a common language of film was key andthat with enough commitment, actors with natural athleticism could be trained to look likeauthentic fighters on screen, O'Connor set out to cast the film's two pivotal roles.
Finding an actor with an absolutely unique balance of opposite qualities to play Tommy Conlon,a character who does some unlikeable things and who is often unpleasant but whose coregoodness and vulnerability must be ever apparent to the audience, was the key to the film firstand foremost. O'Connor had read close to 200 actors for the part when after an initial phoneconversation, he arranged for an in-person meeting with Tom Hardy. "It wasn't a traditionalaudition" explains Tom Hardy, who was confident in the dramatic essence of the character but hadfierce initial doubts about whether he could "close the gap" presented by the accenttransformation, physical transformation, and cultural transformations the role required. Aftersharing his concerns with O'Connor, the two settled on a pow-wow in the United States to dosome reading, development and analysis, and hopefully arm Tom Hardy with a fully roundedcharacter. That experience turned out to be more in-depth than O'Connor ever imagined. Herecounts, "(Tom Hardy) showed up at my house at midnight on a Sunday, unannounced. Just a knockon the door, and there's Tom Hardy. He was supposed to go to a hotel, but instead stayed at myhouse for five days. He never left, so I got to know him very well. And the qualities that he hadas a human being were just right for the character."
Tom Hardy's co-star Joel Edgerton feels strongly that the people with the most interesting lives off-screenmake the most interesting presences on screen, and thinks that Tom Hardy's performance falls squarelyinto that category. He feels that the key to playing this combustible character was that "Tom isdefinitely a character in real life, a really loving, lovely, thoughtful, intelligent guy. He's acomplex guy and that shows through in his work."
The next step was finding the right actor to play Tommy's brother Brendan. The brothers arealmost psychological mirror images - where Tommy is full of surface rage that masks the decentperson he really is, Brendan is very mature and thoughtful, but harbors a fierce fighting spirit athis core. With a black belt in karate and a famed Australian stunt coordinator for a brother, JoelEdgerton had the athletic background O'Connor was looking for. But he also had the key layersthe role of Brendan required. O'Connor needed an actor who the audience could sense straightaway had an abundance of integrity, and "integrity reeks off him. You can't fake that." However,the role also demanded someone that the audience would believe had a past. "Brendan was afighter when he was younger, and he got into some trouble," O'Connor elaborates. "But he'sevolved and become a man, a father, a great husband. Still, there's something primal about him.So you need to see in his eyes that he could have the capacity to regress, to drink and throw apunch." It's a balance that O'Connor thinks today's Australian actors exhibit more readily thantheir American contemporaries, an Aussie mystique of sorts. Joel Edgerton's co-star Nick Nolte alsomakes the connection, pointing out a discernable "pioneering spirit" from Australian actors ofJoel Edgerton's generation.
Jennifer Morrison adds of her on-screen husband, "Joel has a huge heart. He always wants thebest for those around him, and he's incredibly disciplined. Having all those qualities in Joelobviously infused the character of Brendan. They automatically make you want to stand behindhim and root for him. Whether it's him working out his finances, saving his family, or winningthe fight, you want him to win."
Casting the role of Paddy didn't require an international search. In fact, Gavin had to look nofurther than down his own street. The part of Paddy, a man very much in need of redemption,was actually written for O'Connor's neighbor and friend Nick Nolte, who was originally cast in"Pride and Glory," but had a last-minute scheduling conflict that prohibited his participation.O'Connor and Tambakis both grew up as enormous fans of Nolte's work and vowed to write hima special part. O'Connor tells of humoring everyone on the production by "pretending to gothrough the lists" of suggestions for the role, all the while knowing that it should and hopefullywould belong to Nolte in the end. "He's a national treasure," says O'Connor, "and I wanted touse him how he's best and hoped the role would remind everyone what he's capable of.""Acting is a contact sport for Nick," says Tom Hardy of his co-star. "You're going into the room withsomebody who's going to judge you on your give and take. He's a live wire, an actor withincredible presence."
Though the primary relationships explored in the film are father-son and fraternal, JenniferMorrison's character Tess is in many ways the "heartbeat of the film," as producer GregO'Connor puts it. Where Paddy is holding together Tommy's side of the fight, his training andhis business, Tess is holding Brendan's world together. "If it's not for Tess's female qualitiesholding these men together," explains co-star Nick Nolte, "we don't have a film." With theaudience's investment in Brendan and Tess' relationship the key to their emotional investment inthe final fight and indeed the whole story, the filmmakers were prepared for a vast search for theirTess. But Gavin O'Connor tells of turning to the casting director after hearing from Jennifer Morrison,only the fifth actress to read, and calling off the search on the spot. "That very rarely happens,and when it does, we don't challenge the movie gods on those things. She just had it. She had thefire, the spirit, the compassion, the sexiness, the toughness, the maternal qualities." On-screenhusband Joel Edgerton agrees, "The warmth of Jen becomes the warmth of Tess. The goodness yousee on screen is a quality that cannot be manufactured for a role."
For all of the actors, understanding the complicated, emotional history of the characters'relationships was a key part of their preparation. Tommy and Brendan haven't seen each other infourteen years and beyond being out of touch, they are completely estranged when they reunite.Conversely, Brendan and Tess have shared a fourteen-year marriage that grew out of a highschool courtship. The challenge for each actor was to believably erase - or instantly populate -fourteen years of a shared story with another actor prior to shooting. Along with O'Connor, allkinds of details were discussed and explored with the actors that according to him "eventuallyworked their way into the DNA of the script and the movie," going deeper and deeper until "ithad footprints and fingerprints that just felt truthful."
Perhaps as important as any of the above, the locations where WARRIOR was filmed and is settruly become characters. After originally considering a range of gritty, working class locationssuch as the docks and gyms of Long Beach, California, O'Connor and his team ultimately chosePittsburgh as both the film's shooting location and the story's setting. "Pennsylvania felt right,"says the director. "Pennsylvania is wrestling country, it's football country. I went to Pittsburghand fell in love with the 'working class poetry' of that city. Its trains, its rivers, its churches. It'sa tough environment and its textures just felt right."
The filmmakers also chose to forgo the glitz of Las Vegas for the grittier atmosphere of AtlanticCity for the tournament. "I love the way it looks," explains O'Connor. "It was the hub of boxingmany years ago, and now it's kind of downtrodden. I loved the look of the beach, the oldboardwalk, casinos that are falling apart." But another major selling point for the filmmakers wasthe fact that Atlantic City had not been photographed in so long. On all levels, from the sport itportrays to the settings where it portrays them, the film felt like an opportunity to show a worldon film that is little-seen in the medium.
Stunt coordinator JJ Perry was also satisfied with the chosen shooting location, explaining thatfilming in a city like Pittsburgh really brought everyone together to focus on the training andwork in total "eat, train, and sleep" mode in a way that might not have happened in a morecosmopolitan environment.
Although Joel Edgerton's physical preparation involved gaining almost twenty pounds of muscle forthe role, his fighting style in the film didn't call for him to bulk up beyond recognition. Perrydescribes Joel Joel Edgerton's physical presence in the film, in contrast to Tom Hardy's, as that more of a technician."He uses jiu-jitsu, the slick maneuvers, and is the underdog who comes from nowhere whereasTom is like the Raging Bull that just comes through and wrecks everything in his wake."Joel Edgerton describes his experience training as being a physical, mental and emotional"patchwork."
While both lead actors were put on a grueling ten-week, full-time training regimen and a stricthigh protein diet of six small meals per day, Tom Hardy's regimen focused much more on heavyweight lifting with the goal of bulking up, ultimately to the tune of twenty-eight additionalpounds of muscle put on for the part. Unlike Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy didn't have previous athleticexperience. The son of a Cambridge academic father, Tom Hardy is the first to admit that prior toWARRIOR, he was not a fighting man, and not intimately familiar with "alpha male territory."While the structure of his training days, which consisted of two hours of boxing, followed by twohours of kickboxing and Muay Thai, followed by two hours of choreography, and finally twohours of lifting, won't be missed by Tom Hardy (who Perry lovingly described during training as"carb-depleted, angry and moody"), the sense of accomplishment and athletic prowess gained asa result of appearing in the film will be forever treasured.
Joel Edgerton concurs, relaying a somewhat transcendent moment during filming, "I always imagined thatwhen you're fighting, the crowd just disappears, and I had an experience of that sort on set. Youcan see them, you can hear them, but for some reason, when you step into the ring, it all fallsaway. And then you step out, and you're like 'Oh, that's right. There are thousands of peoplewatching.'"
With three World MMA Awards to his name, and having been named the 8th Most Powerful Manin MMA by Fight! Magazine, the legendary Greg Jackson was a technical advisor for the film.Jackson has trained many successful fighters, including current UFC welterweight championGeorges St. Pierre. He is also the trainer of former King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt, whoappears in the film. On WARRIOR, he would be entrusted to run both lead actors through theirgrueling training regimen.
Production of the fight scenes went on for six straight weeks, with over two hundred hours offootage ultimately shot for the film, much of it extra fight coverage. As the shoot began, trainingtransitioned from Jackson's Albuquerque, New Mexico facility to the Pittsburgh Fight Club,which played host to the production both while cameras were rolling in the gym scenes as well asfor the cast's off-camera training. While both actors did have stunt doubles, Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardythemselves eventually completed at least 85% of the fight work seen on screen. ObservesJackson, "I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the actors on this project. They werededicated to really understanding what it takes to be high-level fighters and trainers. They partookin heavy training and the results speak for themselves. I was honored to be a part of such asignificant project for our art. The script positively shows the great impact MMA can have onindividuals and families."
Filming mixed martial arts fight scenes presented a unique set of challenges. For one, the glovesused in MMA are four ounce gloves - far thinner and less padded than boxing gloves - andfighters' chests and legs are exposed. Describing how little room for protection there was, Perrysays, "If we do a fight scene in a nightclub and you're wearing clothes, I can use knee pads andelbow pads. We can cheat a lot of things." Though small concessions were made, like replacingthe gloves' thin padding with equally thin but higher density padding and installing a specialgymnastics style spring floor in the bottom of the cage to help absorb impact, at the end of theday, both actors had to literally throw themselves into a physically precarious shootingenvironment.
They also had to face real fighters, some of the best in the world, from across a multitude ofspecialties. The film features Olympic champion wrestler and Pittsburgh local hero Kurt Angleas Koba, the Russian wrestling champion who is expected to win Sparta. Though his screen timeis limited to one match, his shadow hangs over the entire film as a fearsome opponent. In fact,the shadow of Angle himself, as well as those of fellow world class martial arts professionals whomake appearances in the film, from Nate Marquardt, Erik Apple, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson,and Yves Edwards, hung over the set as forces to be reckoned with.
It was a challenge not just to train the two lead actors as credible fighters, but train real fighterswho have spent a lifetime physically crushing opponents to the ways of stunt fighting, or"selling" punches versus actually throwing them. In other words, Perry's challenge was to trainthe fighters "not to wreck the actors," as he puts it. Despite his best efforts though, the occasionalpunch did accidentally connect, and there were a handful of "comes with the territory" injuries onset, including Tom Hardy's personal tally of a torn ligament, broken foot and cracked rib, and a seriousinjury to the MCL of Joel Edgerton's right knee that jeopardized the shooting schedule. Despitedoctor's warnings, the Australian toughed it out and finished the shoot despite the tear in hisknee. Perhaps the steepest learning curve for each of the film's real fighters, however, was to goagainst the grain of everything they've ever learned and accept that they would ultimately lose thebout in their filmed fight.
Apart from the real fighters shown in WARRIOR, so many other people who appeared in the filmor participated behind the scenes are renowned members of the sport's community or just plainpassionate about it.
Officiating the film's visceral fights was longtime professional referee Josh Rosenthal, one of thetop refs in the world and himself a jujitsu brown belt. Rosenthal was quite at home in the role,having refereed over 2,000 real life fights. A staunch admirer of the way O'Connor has capturedthe heart and soul of bouts from a fighter's perspective as well as the infectious crowd energy ofthe live events, Rosenthal also had an abundance of compliments for the two lead actors. "Theyreally stepped up," he says. "They put themselves through the paces to perform with guys that areworld-class athletes at the top of their sport."
In addition, the film's ringside announcer is none other than acclaimed sportswriter SamSheridan, author of the acclaimed national bestsellers "A Fighter's Heart: One Man's JourneyThrough the World of Fighting," and most recently "The Fighter's Mind: Inside The MentalGame."
As a jiu-jitsu purple belt and boxer, "Pride and Glory" actor and dear friend of the director FrankGrillo was a natural fit to play Brendan's trainer Frank Campana, modeled to some extent onGreg Jackson. To prepare for the role, Frank Grillo spent over a month with the famed trainer in NewMexico, being schooled in the art of training and closely observing Jackson's work with Tom Hardy,Joel Edgerton and the professional fighters.
One thing that struck the filmmakers and actors about the professional fighters was theirgentlemanly ethic. "There's a real vein of humility, honor and respect that underpins their sport,"explains Tom Hardy. "People are finding kinship and craftsmanship within this sport. It's an artform." He continues, "I didn't see that coming - to see that these beings that could tear me limbfrom limb are actually really gentle personalities that you could take home to mom, that's quitethe opposite of what you'd expect. These are young professionals who really care about whatthey do."
When it came to choreographing and shooting the fight scenes, O'Connor had a very specific setof criteria in mind. "I didn't want any Hong Kong fighting," he explains. Not to bemisunderstood, he clarifies, "It looks great. It's highly stylized and it's great cinema, but it'smovie stuff." O'Connor went so far as to decree that he didn't want any move in the film hecouldn't see on YouTube in a clip from a real match. To make sure they got it right and wereeconomical with time when the cameras started rolling, Perry pre-shot digital video mock-ups ofeach fight scene as he was envisioning it for Gavin's approval before filming began.
It was also important to work closely with top cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, an upand-coming director of photography who was a protégé of Rodrigo Prieto on "Babel," on honingthe perfect cinematic style for WARRIOR. In tandem with the fight choreography, O'Connorknew he needed the sequences filmed in an intimate way rather than with a glossy veneer.
Takayanagi learned an immense amount about the sport to prepare for the shoot, and together heand O'Connor developed a very specific style involving multiple cameras, long lenses and a gooddeal of hand held work that afforded the right kind of intimacy and an extremely naturalistic look.At the end of the day, for all of the 'stand in your seat and cheer' infectious energy of the film'sclimax, it's the intimacy and truthfulness of the whole story that makes it really hit home.
Looking back at his personal filmmaking journey, director Gavin O'Connor reflects, "I wouldnever have been able to make WARRIOR without having made my other films. They freed me toup the artistic and emotional ante, and though there's a continuity, I think I found in myself avoice that is stronger and more concentrated. I have no idea how the film is going to be receivedcommercially, but I do know artistically it's been the most satisfying and fulfilling experience ofmy career."