Weekend Roundup: WARRIOR and ON THE BEACH

As last weekend we got to see quite a lot of films (yes, I’m a bit behind on my reviews folks), this year we skipped the cinema and opted to catch up on films I’ve missed last year. One I’ve been wanting to see is Warrior, and when I read this enthusiastic review on Thursday, I knew I had to see it right away.  The other film I saw was another one from my Gregory Peck marathon, a doomsday drama On the Beach. So here are my thoughts on those:

WARRIOR

Well I’m telling you right off the bat, I wish I had waited to make my 2011 top 10 list as Warrior would surely be in my top 5!

As with The Fighter from last year, Warrior is not just a boxing (or UFC in this case) tale, it’s a family drama wrapped around this popular contact sport that’s as heavy on the fighting as it is on character development. The film opens with the father of the two lead characters, Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), getting out of a church in Pittsburgh and finding his long-lost son waiting for him when he gets home. Tommy (Tom Hardy) has not seen his dad in fourteen years. As the conversation between them progresses, we find out that they did not part on amiable terms. The opposite is true in fact, as evident in the way Tommy is distrustful of his former alcoholic dad’s reformed life. At times I feel like Tommy is too harsh with his repentant dad, but at the same time, the film hints of the immense transgression Paddy did to his own family.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, we’re given a glimpse of a seemingly idyllic family life of Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), Tommy’s brother who’s also estranged from both him and Paddy. Brendan’s in financial trouble – his job as a physics teacher just isn’t enough to support his wife and two kids, and their house is in danger of foreclosure. He’s inevitably drawn to his former life as a UFC fighter. The money is too good to pass up, Brendan reasons, much to the chagrin of his wife who’s obviously concerned for his well-being.

From all of the film’s marketing, we already know that the two Conlon brothers will face each other in the big finale of the championship game. But the journey of how each of them get there is the heart of the story. It didn’t take long for the film to make us care for the film’s key players. Before the first half is done, we’re already fully invested in them, which makes the high octane fights at the end so compelling to watch.

The fights themselves are well-choreographed and despite their ferocity, I couldn’t turn away from them. Mixed martial arts fans no doubt are enthralled by the “Sparta” tournament in Atlantic City, but what fascinates me the most is what’s really at stake for Tommy and Brendan, what this fight means for them as a family. The physical blows are as hard as the emotional ones, aided by the superb classically-tinged score by Mark Isham. Brendan’s trainer Frank likes to use Beethoven’s music and as Ode to Joy blares through the arena it literally gives me goosebumps.

There are so much going for Warrior as a whole, the direction, the script and of course, the performances. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are convincing as estranged brothers and both of them are nothing short of electrifying in their roles. The fact that Hardy is a Brit and Edgerton is an Aussie doesn’t matter as both manage to pull off convincing American accent. They both look the part with their ripped physique (Hardy is especially menacing in his pre-Bane look for The Dark Knight Rises), both most importantly, both could handle the emotional parts with aplomb. Veteran actor Nolte’s is outstanding as Paddy, it’s a controlled performance and he nailed his utterly heart-wrenching breakdown scene without being over the top (like he did in Ang Lee’s Hulk). I’m glad he’s nominated for SAG Award this year, hopefully the Academy would be smarter than the folks at the Golden Globes and nominate him for Best Supporting Performance. I’m also impressed by Frank Grillo’s sympathetic performance as Joel’s trainer.

I can’t recommend this film enough to you if you have not seen this. It’s a powerful film that will tug at your heart without being manipulative or overly melodramatic. That ending packs so much emotional punch that I was so drained by the end from crying so much. I think emotionally this will stay with me the longest among other 2011 films I’ve watched.

In the end it doesn’t really matter who won the tournament, but one thing for sure, this film is a triumph!

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ON THE BEACH (1959)

Doomsday films doesn’t get any more devastating than this. Based on a novel of the same name by Nevil Shute, the story takes place in 1964 post a nuclear war that has annihilated the northern hemisphere. Lt. Commander Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) and his crew aboard the US nuclear submarine Sawfish lands on the coast of Australia which has not been wiped out by the lethal cloud. But of course it’s just a matter of time before they too will perish and the film tells the story of how the last remaining people on the island must come to terms with that.

This film is  a far cry from Roland Emmerich’s kind of end-of-the world movies like Independence Day or 2012 where the protagonists somehow manage to save the day and all will be well. It’s not a feel-good film by any means but a thought-provoking one that is still relevant today so long as humans are capable of destroying themselves.

It’s a fascinating piece that relies on the greatness of the script and performances. The cast alone makes this one worth a watch… the third pairing of Ava Gardner and Peck for one (once again romantically), pre-Norman Bates Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire in his impressive dramatic acting debut. Astaire played Julian, the ship’s scientist in charged of checking radiation levels, and there’s a poignant scene of him telling some crew members on what he thought started this whole war in the first place.

The impending doom makes one re-evaluate what is really important in life. Julian gets to live out his childhood fantasy as a race car driver, Dwight going sailing and trout fishing with Moira, etc. Oh and the scene where Gregory chased Ava with a boat paddle on the beach is amusing though almost as abruptly, we are reminded again that the fun is all short-lived. The cinematography often speaks louder than words ever could, the shots of the usually-bustling city of San Francisco being reduced to a ghost town is killer, and the closing shot of an empty city square under the banner ‘THERE IS STILL TIME … BROTHER.’ There’s also no bombastic scenes of destruction or deformed bodies often depicted in today’s disaster movies, but it doesn’t mean the impact here is in any way lesser.

I highly recommended this for fans of understated but powerful sci-fi classics or anyone who appreciates films that are rich in human drama. This is the kind of film that will haunt you for days… I know for sure I’d never listen to Waltzing Matilda (the unofficial national anthem of Australia) the same way again.


Just a note, I opted not to give a rating to any of Gregory’s films just yet. I will do a blog post summarizing the GP marathon later this year.


So what did you see this weekend? Thoughts on either one of these? I’d love to hear ’em!