Scraping the bottom of the streaming service barrel? Already rewatched all the favorites three times and out of ideas where to look next? We’ve got you covered. Every week (hopefully), Streaming Secrets will showcase an underseen or underrated movie that is available for free, or at least for no extra charge on one of the many streaming services that you probably already pay for.
Previously on Streaming Secrets: Rudderless
Welcome to the second week of Streaming Secrets! If you’re coming back after reading last week’s article on Rudderless, thanks for returning! If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re interested in the (completely arbitrary!) criteria or guidelines used for our selections, you can find the link to my first piece above.
This whole exercise exists partly as an excuse to rewatch each of these movies as I write the articles. The collateral damage of all this being that my wonderful girlfriend Meredith is forced to watch a bunch of movies that maybe wouldn’t be her first choice. Meredith is… not a fan of fighting movies or movies with a ton of violence in general. So, given that our recommendation this week revolves around a professional MMA tournament, I went into the movie a bit hesitant as to what her reaction might be.
Even though I love movie quotes, I try not to use any when I’m writing one of these because this article’s theoretical mission statement is to recommend a movie to you, the reader. If you leave a movie wanting to quote a line, it’s probably because there was some sort of power in those words and the way they were used in the movie. Giving you a line out of context before you have even seen the movie I’m telling you to watch takes a bit of power away from that moment.
So, with that being said, I thought I’d use a few lines Meredith shouted while watching the movie in lieu of any dialogue from the film. Here are a few that stuck out:
“I can’t watch I can’t watch!”
“I can’t breathe.”
“I’m gonna cry.”
Fine, that last one was from both of us. All of this is to say that if, after I explain the premise of the movie, your first reaction is “I don’t have any interest in MMA” or “That sounds like too much fighting,” then maybe just give it a chance anyway. After all, Meredith loved it. Alright, let’s get into the week’s film — which, for my money, might be the best sports movie of the 21st century.
What are we Watching?
This week’s streaming recommendation is Warrior, directed by Gavin O’Connor (you may know O’Connor as the director of Miracle or Ben Affleck vehicles The Accountant and The Way Back). The movie was released in theaters in 2011, and that fits because it might very well be the most 2011 movie of all time. Cut to Stefon: “Warrior has everything. Echoes of the financial crisis, Iraq, MMA, indie rock songs, a 9/11 reference, TAPOUT shirts!”
The movie follows the estranged men of the Conlon family. Tommy (Tom Hardy) is a US marine back from serving in Iraq. His brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a high school teacher with a family and increasing financial strain. The brothers work as perfect foils for one another: in profession, demeanor, fighting style, and life choices, they have less drifted apart than steered violently in opposite directions. Circumstances push each of them towards fighting for a living and, inevitably, towards each other.
Both performances are great, but Hardy in particular gives what is, to me, his most impressive performance. He mumbles and slurs through frequently harsh dialogue in one of his trademark Weird Voices. On the surface Tommy appears restrained and quiet. He never yells or gesticulates wildly in the way we’re used to seeing actors appear in Oscars highlight reels. But we can clearly see that he is seething with rage and resentment on the inside.
The deep-seated anger is apparent from the film’s opening moments, but we still aren’t prepared for what happens when he steps into the ring. Suddenly, all of the restrained anger bursts forth like an erupting volcano. Whereas Brendan relies on his training — focus and technique embodied by the classical music preferred by his trainer, Tommy enters a fight as rage personified. He’s a tempest, a force of nature. Hardy’s physical transformation for the role is pretty stunning — this might be one of the all time greatest cinematic showcases for the trapezius — but the way he incorporates that hulking physicality into every aspect of Tommy’s character is an even greater achievement.
At the center of the brothers’ shared trauma is their recovering alcoholic father, played in a heart wrenching turn by Nick Nolte. I don’t think many actors could go toe-to-toe with Tom Hardy’s performance in this one, but the 70-year-old Nolte proves more than capable. With his natural, gravelly voice and weathered looks it doesn’t take much imagining to see Nolte as a deadbeat father with a laundry list of ruinous decisions in his past. His character is painstakingly drawn though, from AA milestones to that thematically fitting Moby Dick audiobook he keeps playing.
Come for some incredible fights, stay for the dark working class family drama that you rarely get to see in a sports movie
, or any movie for that matter. This is a story without a villain but, at the same time, without any perfect hero. No one has made all the right choices, and no one is let off the hook. When the baggage is this heavy and you’ve been holding onto it for this long, the road to redemption and reconciliation is broken and messy, and maybe the destination isn’t reachable at all.
What Qualifies this as Underseen?
Warrior did $23 million dollars worldwide on a $25 million dollar budget which, for the non-math majors in the room, is not great. The niche popularity of MMA probably didn’t help things, and it’s tempting to wonder what would have happened if you put the same actors and the same budget into a boxing movie. That movie would have been worse, but my guess is it probably would have garnered more attention at the time of release. Granted, Hardy and Edgerton weren’t huge stars at the time and Nolte was far removed from his box office prime, but once upon a time, before the reign of our current superhero overlords, it seemed like sports movies were a pretty easy sell.
All that being said, it does seem that Warrior has found a bit of an audience either through premium cable runs or streaming channels. Its cultural footprint is certainly much larger than last week’s movie, but it is by no means a household name.
Where Can We Watch It?
Warrior is currently available to stream (included with subscription) on either Hulu or Prime Video. If you somehow don’t have an Amazon Prime subscription and are not morally inclined to “borrow” someone elses, it is also available on Epix. I am seriously doubting you have Epix if you don’t have either Hulu or Prime Video, though, and in that case you can rent the movie for a couple bucks through any of the normal channels (iTunes, Google Play, Microsoft, etc.).
Is This Like Anything I’ve Seen Before?
Sure, it has plenty of the fight movie cliches that will have you feeling right at home. A grand prix-style tournament in the image of Kickboxer or Enter the Dragon. An unbeatable fighter of foreign origin. Heck, there’s even a Rocky reference!
The closest I can get is to say that it has the moments of elation and despair to equal any of the great sports movie — whether that’s Rocky, Hoosiers, or O’Conner’s own Miracle — but darker and with nuance befitting the 21st century. Mix in a bit of family drama that is 20 years in the making, something you usually only find in little-seen indie dramas like The Meyerowitz Stories, and you have Warrior.
Any Additional Strong Points?
Every once in a while a movie uses a song to such effect that the song and the scene it soundtracks become intertwined in your head. This has one such moment for me. The film opens with “Start a War” by The National. One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. But it’s another song by the same band that brings me back to this movie.
Towards the end of the movie, in a climactic scene, everything slows down. You’re already out of breath and reeling from the previous minutes, and “About Today” starts playing. Just a guitar and drumbeat at first and then a beautifully somber violin. The rest of the film goes silent as Matt Berninger’s baritone kicks in, a forlorn voice murmuring short staccato phrases.
It’s a song about loneliness and a crumbling relationship and words that aren’t said and the worries that take root in that silence. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect fit for the themes of this movie or for that scene in particular. If this film existed for just that one scene and just that one song, that would have been enough for me.
Then there are the actual fights. I’m definitely no MMA aficionado, but I’ve watched a few of the bigger cards, and to my untrained eye O’Connor does a fantastic job of imitating the feel of a real mixed martial arts match. That’s not to say the fights look in any way like ESPN’s coverage of a Conor McGregor fight, but that’s a good thing. The movie is shot in an intimate style befitting its story, filled with close-ups of its leads in conversation or training. O’Connor opts to stick with this strategy during fights, often with the frame feeling just inches away from the fighters. The result is a visceral and punishing experience each time Tommy or Brendan steps into the ring. We feel every punch, kick, and throw whether it was delivered by our protagonists or an opponent. In other words, it feels like a movie about fighting should feel.
Can We Go Watch the Movie Now?
Yes, please, go ahead! And let me know what you think here in the comments or on twitter (@slapnslide). Unless you hate the movie, then feel free to take your complaints to the guy who edits this (@john_mahaffey6).
Unfortunately none of the Rocky movies are available for streaming, but here are the other martial arts tournament movies mentioned above, along with the locations of a few classic sports movies that are currently streaming.
Enter the Dragon – HBO Max
Kickboxer – Prime Video
Miracle – Netflix, Disney+
Friday Night Lights – HBO Max
Remember the Titans – Disney+
He Got Game – HBO Max
Hoosiers – Prime Video