“Why do you hate me?” Jesus asked Saul, a vicious persecutor of Christians. “Instead of allowing me to lead you, you suffer. You kick against the spurs” (Acts 26:14, Drew Zahn paraphrase).
In the new film “Warrior,” former Marine Tommy Rierdon has plenty of reasons to kick against the goads: His father was a violent drunk; he ran away from home with his mother to protect her; he held her as she suffered; he bathed her fevered body in holy water and listened to her cry out to a God who let her die in Tommy’s arms; his unit in Iraq was gunned down by friendly fire, and he alone, the unworthy, the unwanted, survived. Now, to make matters worse, his loathesome father “found God” and wants forgiveness.
Forgiveness? Tommy asks. When hell freezes over.
What does it take to break an embittered soul, a man so dead set against God that even the redemption of his own father is seen by him as the spitefulness of the Almighty? A man enraged with the world and loathesome of the name of Jesus? Is such a man beyond redemption?
The answer to those questions, served up in the final minute of “Warrior,” is one of the reasons this powerful, moving, exciting, well-acted, well-written, suspenseful and cheer-out-loud film (was that enough adjectives of praise for ya?) may just be my new, most favorite movie ever.
Now, granted, I’m a sucker for sports films. I wept for joy with “Secretariat,” jumped out of my seat at “Remember the Titans” and still hold a soft spot in my heart for “The Pride of the Yankees.”
And, yes, there’s a certain cliché formula for sports films: Make audiences care about the characters, then put them in a gripping, live-or-die-type athletic contest with cheering crowds and gushing announcers, then have the underdog/good guy grit it out in the end. It worked for “Rocky,” it worked for “Rudy,” and it works for “Warrior.”
Can you see it coming? Yes. Is it formulaic? Yes. But it’s a formula for success … because it works. And boy, does it work in “Warrior.”
Even though the film is based on mixed martial arts fighting, or MMA – which I have never watched and can’t imagine even caring about, much less becoming a fan of – “Warrior” transcends the fighting to become something more, something along the lines of “Rocky” or “Cinderella Man” or last year’s overrated “The Fighter,” which, frankly, I think “Warrior” supercedes.
The movie follows two brothers, Tommy and Brendan, who each escaped their abusive home in different ways, one by running away, the other by getting married and building a stable home.
But both of the brothers were trained to be fighters, wrestlers and competitive warriors, and when times get tough, the brothers turn back to their MMA roots, set on a collision course where they will eventually meet each other in a world-championship-level tournament.
For Tommy, this is his chance to unleash his wrath on any soul that gets in the way of his demonic rage.
For Brendan, winning may be the only way to avoid foreclosure on his home and the loss of the family life he worked so hard to build.
At one point in the tournament, Brendan’s trainer puts the stakes down on the line: “If you don’t knock him out,” the trainer tells Brendan, “you don’t have a home.”
In the middle is a father who was found forgiveness from God, but desperately wants it from his boys, neither of whom are ready to give it.
“So you found God,” Tommy says to his dad. “Mom kept calling out for him, but he wasn’t there. While Jesus was down at the mill saving all the drunks, I was rubbing her down with holy water because we had no health insurance, and all the while she was waiting for your pal, Jesus, to save her.”
The film focuses on the gritty, painful intersection of faith and a fallen world, where redemption meets rage, forgiveness meets fury, and two brothers – one an angel, the other a demon – will literally have to slug it out to see whether God is strong enough to break the heart of the world’s toughest man.
Who wins in the end?
Oh, I can’t tell you that. But I was reminded of a song from my favorite group, The Waiting, in which singer Brad Olsen cries to Jesus, “Break my leg if you must, but keep me close to you.”
Who wins? Well, OK. I’ll give you a clue.
Love does. Love wins. For it’s the only thing in heaven or earth that’s tougher than Tommy.
- “Warrior” contains about two dozen obscenities and a dozen profanities, reflecting the gritty reality of the characters and the conflict, without saturating the script to distraction.
- The film contains some minor sexuality beyond the shirtless men in the ring. One scene takes place in the parking lot of a strip club, and while no nudity is seen, the signs for the club are risqué, and the location becomes a topic of discussion. There is some suggestive flirting between Brendan and his wife. His wife also appears in obscenely short clothing in three scenes, showing off a lot of leg, particularly in one scene, where the camera angles are obviously designed to linger over her legs and rear, covered only by a pair of panties.
- The violence in the film is fast and furious, but all inside a ring and never played for shock or gore. With some exceptions (purposefully depicting Tommy’s brutal rage), the MMA fighting is depicted as a strategic art, more than a bloodsport, so there are some interesting wrestling maneuvers to go with the kickboxing and bodyslamming. Those who are squeemish about boxing will find this too much, but those accustomed to action movies will be shocked at how little blood and brutality are in “Warrior.”
- There is no occult content (unless it’s somewhere in the tattoos of some characters), but there is a significant amount of religious content in the film: Not only the presence of symbols – a bible, a rosary, a boxer with two Star of David tattoos – but also the repeated use of a audiobook reading the Christian allegory “Moby Dick” and several conversations between the father and sons about faith. The conversations are real and not glamorizing of Christianity – Tommy is furious with God, while his father is not much of an apologist – but neither are they insulting to the faith, instead suggesting there is life-changing, redemptive power in the gospel. The movie isn’t preachy, but it’s very affirming of Christian themes.