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MOVIES: ‘Warrior’ has a good message but rough content

KANSAS City, Kan. (BP)–With the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) serving as a symbolic setting for the new movie “Warrior,” this emotionally intense drama from Lionsgate becomes a striking portrait of the healing power of forgiveness.

The film, PG-13, focuses on the lives of a recovering alcoholic (Nick Nolte) and his two estranged sons (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton). They are a wounded, alienated family brought together by financial necessity, only to discover their true need — to forgive one another.

“This movie was never about fighting,” director Gavin O’Connor said in the press notes. “It’s about spiritual warfare, which may not be perceived by the eye but is a powerful reality in our lives nonetheless.”

O’Connor continued in a recent phone interview: “The brothers are dealing with their past lives…. The youngest brother [played by Hardy] is spiritually bankrupt. And when they face off in the arena, he needs to die, metaphorically, by his brother so that he can be reborn.”

What are they fighting for? Co-writer Anthony Tambakis says, “Family. It was important to us to make a serious pro-marriage, pro-family movie. And therefore we don’t shy away from revealing the intense struggle of family life because that’s reality and also the key to growth.”

I had complimented Mr. O’Connor in my interview concerning this incorporated pro-marriage portrait.

“It was important to me to present a marriage, including its happiness and its pain,” O’Connor said during the interview. “When you show a marriage under duress, many people in our country can relate because of the stressful financial times we live in. I wanted to explore how people survive that struggle.”

I then mentioned the subtle presence of the Bible in one scene. Just one shot sent us the message that the father had found his way out of his futile existence through faith.

“The intention there was to show that he now clearly embraced Christianity,” O’Connor said. “The back story, which was eliminated from the script due to time restraints, was that it had been his ex-wife’s Bible, she having been a practicing believer. And now he has also embraced a faith in Christ.”

Though I found Warrior melancholic in tone, its perception, its occasional humor, and its three-dimensional portraits kept me engrossed. Each desperate for a resolve, these aren’t characters we just casually observe, but rather quickly come to care for and relate to. And though the bouts in the ring are as primal and kinetic as any I’ve ever seen on screen, the film’s ultimate energy exudes from the cast’s verbal and gestural tugs-of-war. The characters, like the sport portrayed, serve as metaphor. Their tale is a parable, a life lesson about the joy of finding peace through forgiveness.

That said, this is a PG-13 Hollywood venture, not one by a Christian film company designed for a church night presentation. Though we see a Bible on a living room table, the Gospel is not preached, but stealthily injected as the source of the father’s spiritual recovery. And profane and objectionable language is sprinkled throughout. The 20 or so obscenities and three profanities raise the question — does the profundity of the film’s message trump its profanity?

Here is what O’Connor’s said: “The language in the film represents the messiness of life. I thought that if I kept things squeaky clean, it wouldn’t be reflective of life. And if you look at who is using the profanity, it also sends a message. In the movie, the son is railing at God. He says things that aren’t Christian, because at this stage he isn’t one.”

As you know from my past grievances concerning the misuse of God’s name in movies, I can point to productions that have handled similar subject matter without the cursing. For example, “On the Waterfront,” the Best Picture of 1954 dealt with this redemptive theme. Marlon Brando gives an electrifying performance as an ex-fighter making a living on the gang-run docks of New York. I mention this film because though it examined the lives of tough men and their even tougher surroundings, it did so without any crude or offensive language.

Times have changed and, sadly, most filmmakers find it difficult to represent social behavior without the inclusion of profane dialogue.

Warrior is a film that moves and unites. Though our situations may differ, the story’s emblematic desperation, the characters’ need for love’s healing power, comforts us by film’s end. Sitting in a dark theater, staring up at the shadows of light, it becomes clear that people can’t just lie down for the count, but must continue this enigmatic battle called life.

I found it gritty, poignant and relevant. Still, if you’ve drawn the line, declaring you won’t attend movies with profanity, you might want to skip this one.
Warrior is rated PG-13 (around 20 obscenities, and five or six minor expletives; three or four profanities; several mixed martial arts bouts, but not excessively or gruesomely portrayed; the father is a recovering alcoholic; drinking is portrayed as destructive).
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org and moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright