5 November 2012

Better The Devil You Know

For me, watching sports is one of the dullest things a human can do. In a list of interesting activities, it ranks somewhere between waiting for a bus that you've whimsically invented the existence of and shaving intricate patterns into your gooch pubes. Football's the worst but only because of how popular it is in Britain. Despite being a game that’s played in parks by children, it can apparently turn a fully grown adult into a quivering wreck. I think getting upset whilst seeing an overpaid twat miss a goal must be an evolutionary fault. Something must irritate the fanny gland causing some people to lose all sense of perspective and weep pathetically like a broken, leaking vagina. If there's one game to like then it's got to be table tennis. I have no idea of the rules but I do like to say the words wiff-waff. Maybe I'd like sports more if they all had names like that. Darts could be called point-swoosh, golf could be clop-pop and horse racing could be Pritt-stick. 

When it comes to films about sports I'm fairly indifferent. If the character is interesting then I'm interested. In regards to boxing, my knowledge is about as limited as a boxers knowledge is on just about anything else. I'm not saying they're unintelligent but if my job was to be punched in the face all day then I'd probably wish I'd worked a little harder at school. However, despite my ignorance on the subject I can still appreciate that Raging Bull is a masterpiece. Rather than looking at the ear biting game, the film focuses more on the rage within the character and his high cholesterol levels of self destruction. The opposite of this is of course Rocky which features a character so dull it falls into Stallone’s acting range. Back in 1980, De Niro was the worlds greatest actor, whereas Stallone's thespian abilities ranged sadly somewhere between a charity shop anorak and a rotting cupboard door.

Warrior was a 2011 film which focuses on a sport known as mixed martial arts. I say sport but clearly I mean organised homicide as the game simply consists of two men smashing the living fuck out of each other. It's kind of like watching a post happy-hour punch up if you replaced Bacardi Breezers with knob shrivelling steroids. Before this film I knew very little about the sport and after having watched it, I'm still fairly in the dark. Despite being hugely brutal, it also seems massively homoerotic with stripped down men sweating and moaning as they pin each other to the floor. From what I can gather, it's a bit like wrestling, only real, and where the only illegal move is full on anal penetration.

The story of Warrior is fairly basic with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton being two brothers fighting in the same tournament. Their father is played by an ageing Nick Nolte who has physically altered so much that he's starting to look like someone has attempted to carve him out of the great Deku Tree’s ball sack. His voice too has gotten even odder so that he now genuinely sounds like an angry cat having it balls trimmed with a cheese grater. I honestly can't understand a word he says but I love him none the less. Why learn the lines when you can simply express the emotion through the guise of a severely abused feline?

Of the three main characters, each of them have their issues. Hardy is filled with rage having watched his mother die of cancer. Edgerton has a family to care for and more bills than he can afford to pay. Nolte is a recovering alcoholic who hasn't seen his kids in years and used to indulge in a little domestic abuse. Basically they're just your average happy family like the Waltons or the Friedmans. Where once the white picket fence was a sign of peaceful suburban life, it's nowadays just another piece of wood to hit someone in the face with. Anybody will tell you that the best way to rekindle a past relationship is to get them into a metal cage and repeatedly kick them in the face until you feel better. The film is therefore about the progress of their sporting endeavour but also the potential reconnection of a broken home.

Although physical violence and a damaged home life might make it sound like a well cast episode of the Jerry Springer show, this is actually really good. Narratively Warrior follows the tried and tested underdog story laid out in that brain-dead, fighting chimps Rocky franchise. It might sound clichéd to compare a sports movie to Rocky but fuck it, it's also clichéd to tell a story of an underdog fighting his way through a tournament and reaching the final against the odds. What Warrior does to counter this is tell two underdog stories at once. Kind of like Rocky 3 if Clubber Lang had been a puny kid from the slums instead of the walking slab of blinged up irony that is Mr T.

It seems that the two brothers are both representative of America’s current middle-class scars. Hardy is a man haunted by war and Edgerton is a good man crippled by the recession. The fact that they both conveniently enter the same tournament is massively contrived and unfortunately a major distraction throughout. The crux of the story is hinged on a huge coincidence which just seems a little unbelievable. However it's easy to get over this fact by simply concentrating on the performances and the action.

As performances go, the two brothers are brilliant- if Bronson has taught us anything about Hardy it's that he's very good at being both theatrical and camp. He also has a bizarre, chewed up looking cock. However here, everything is underplayed with his Warrior performance being an uncharismatic husk of Britain's most notorious nudist/prisoner. If his character is more reserved however, his physique is still massively eye catching. People are impressed by De Niro putting on weight but that's piss easy. Give me a takeaway menu and a big bag of marijuana and I'll put that load on in three days tops. However, to become the muscle machine that Hardy does is something else completely. I jogged for two minutes once before convincing myself I'd popped a lung therefore Hardy must have faked it. I don't know how- maybe CG.

Edgerton too is brilliant as the more likeable of Nolte's sons. Before this, the only thing I'd seen Uncle Owen in was obviously the Star Wars Prequels and the Australian slab of genius that is Animal Kingdom. Considering that Animal Kingdom is one of the most original gangster films of all time I'd be interested to see anything else that the people involved with it have done. Edgerton here is more thoughtful than Hardy and so uses techniques and endurance to win the matches. Hardy on the other hand simply punches people in the face with his metal hands of fury and then fucks off back to the changing rooms for a little rage off. In effect what you have with Warrior is like one of those old school movie cross overs. Whereas in the past there was Dracula vs Frankenstein or King Kong vs Godzilla we know have Jake La Motta vs Rocky Balboa. For other original genre cross overs I look forward to the peado-riffic Hanna vs Hitgirl and the sparklingly satisfying Edward Cullen vs Blade.

The action in Warrior is suitably brutal for a film about cage fighting. When punches connect, they seem convincingly real but always in a cinematic and satisfying way. The scraps in The Wrestler were both physically and emotionally painful as we watched an old man slice his head with a razor for his fans’ approval. Here however, each attack was clearly played with the intent of upping the audience’s adrenaline. As guilty pleasures go the only thing they could have done to make it more crowd pleasing would be to include a to the death match between Hardy and Wolverine. It's a film starring Bane, Hulks Dad and Uncle Owen, why not include a man with knives in his hands? Fuck it, I'd pay to see that more than I would any film in which the mentally and physically deformed star repeatedly shouts “Adrienne” like a deranged howler monkey.

In conclusion, Warrior is a brilliantly executed film that rises above its genre clichés to be genuinely entertaining. Yes, we know what's going to happen each step of the way but at least we don't know which of the two underdogs will eventually win. Although I still can't say I'm a fan of sports, it is good to know there's one out there which is basically just two men stamping on each other’s heads. I don't want to sound sadistic but maybe I could be lured to watching that one if they introduced weapons too. Nothing too dangerous- just maces, clubs, nets and chariots. Basically the only sport I'd be interested in is Gladiator fighting with mixed martial arts. Throw a tiger onto a football pitch and suddenly you've got a game worth watching.


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