For Your Consideration – Best Lead Actor – Joel Edgerton
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Screenplay: Gavin O’Connor, Cliff Dorfman and Anthony Tambakis
Realistic Nominations: Best Supporting Actor – Nick Nolte
Oscar Scene: “I’m sorry, Tommy…I’m sorry…tap, Tommy…it’s okay…it’s okay…I love you, I love you, Tommy!”
Warrior is an endearingly predictable and sentimental sports drama with big lunges of emotion that end up being more powerful than they have any “right” to be. This success can be primarily attributed to the film’s two stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, who articulate the Bitter Introvert With A Dark Past and the Everyman Thrust Back Into One Last Fight, respectively, much better than its screenplay ever does. Many critics have (not unjustifiably) heaped praise on Hardy, but sadly, Edgerton’s work has been relatively ignored. That’s unfortunate; for my money he was actually the film’s MVP.
Edgerton has an enviable ability to convey a number of emotions with only his glassy, bright blue eyes. This lends his acting style a transfixing stillness and gives him a more vulnerable appearance than most Hollywood leading men. He fashions those strengths to bring out an enticing push-pull internality in Brendan as he faces the terror of financial ruin and the prospect of climbing out of it through the very profession he swore off to start a family.
Though the script has him repeatedly assert that he’s only entering SPARTA to save his house, his demeanor belies such reluctance. The playful facial ticks that greet every worried skeptic of his chances in the ring, his barely-contained springiness as he asks Frank to be the tournament replacement, and curt refusal to take a loan to pay off his debts strongly point to Edgerton’s Brendan as a man who desires to break out of his family man life – if only briefly – as much as he steadfastly works to protect it.
Since the film is back-loaded with a string of fight scenes, one would think that the addition of personal shading would end there. But no, Edgerton continues to surprise with an assemblage of revealing details in every round of his fight scenes, making his Brendan Conlon arguably the most layered and well-defined character in the film. This reaches its high point in the climax, tearfully comforting his brother as he administers his final submission against him as an act of kindness and emotional release.
Understand that none of what I’m saying is a knock against his co-star (though I remain baffled at the acclaim for Nick Nolte’s blubbering, Oscar-baiting performance that is a far cry from what he’s capable of). Tom Hardy is remarkably intimidating and conveys through his whole body a deep, brooding sadness. What makes him fall a little short is that Tommy Riordan doesn’t offer the same challenges (i.e. opportunities) as his “brother.” The film didn’t often enough require him to dig deeper than being resentful and menacing, and I’m pretty sure Hardy could do that reading the phone book.
But I suppose it is somewhat fitting; as Brendan is the underdog in the film, so must the actor playing him be a bit underrated himself. If the odds of him receiving Academy recognition are slim to nil, then I hope that studio execs at least recognize his gifts here and give him a future opportunity to deliver another knockout performance.