‘The Toughest Kid in the Planet’: Looking Back on 2011’s Warrior (Spoilers Ahead)

We always want (ed) to know the toughest kid in the neighbourhood? I want to know the toughest kid in the planet.’  – director/co-screenwriter Gavin O’Connor as tournament owner J.J. Riley in his 2011 feature film, Warrior.


(from background to foreground) Director/co-screenwriter Gavin O’Connor and star Nick Nolte at TheWrap’s 2011 Awards Season Screening Series (Valerie Macon/GettyImages.com Photo and Caption)

The reason for tough kids – as also alluded to in director Gavin O’Connor’s 2016 feature film, The Accountant – is often tough parenting. In his 2011 feature film, Warrior, we learn just how tough the parents can be.


(from left to right) Stars Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Morrison, director/co-screenwriter Gavin O’Connor and stars Frank Grillo and Tom Hardy at an event for their 2011 feature film, Warrior (Pinterest.com Photo and Caption)

During a film where gentlemen go to war (with each other), director/co-screenwriter Gavin O’Connor says that how parents treat their children is how children later treat their parents (à la Joel Edgerton’s Brendan confronting his father, Nick Nolte’s Paddy, with, ‘that shit you pulled. Never again’ and ‘all that shit I saw growing up’; Tom Hardy’s Tommy does the same in the casino with the line, ‘the pair of us (Brendan and I), we have absolutely no use for you‘).

Separately, it is also implied that private enterprise and money can move mountains and lure in the strongest men (as suggested by Gavin O’Connor’s J.J. Riley ‘put(ting) up the biggest purse (prize money) that the world has ever seen’ ; Tommy telling Manny’s wife, ‘I haven’t forgotten for one minute what I promised you (financial support given Manny’s death in the army) and Brendan wanting the prize money to avoid ‘giving up the house, it’s our home. We’re not going back’).

Similarly, and spotting a literary trope, often the people who work the hardest are the worst off to begin with (an idea implied via the more secure or gym-represented backgrounds of other featured fighters, such as Kurt Angle’s Koba and Erik Apple’s Mad Dog Grimes as opposed to the uncertain lives of Tommy and Brendan Conlon and the latter’s eventual victory).


(from left to right) Director/co-screenwriter Gavin O’Connor and star Tom Hardy on the set of 2011’s Warrior (Charlidos.Tumblr.com Photo)

Much like 2008’s Pride and Glory allusions to Ray’s off-screen testimony, Tommy, Brendan and Paddy all allude to Paddy’s abuse of Tommy and Brendan’s mother, à la Tommy’s ‘hard to find  a woman who can take a punch nowadays, huh?’  conversation with Paddy. That said, this is countered by Brendan’s milder treatment of Paddy, which despite talk about ‘all that shit I saw growing up’ ends with ‘it’s just a nice old man’ to his daughter watching them from behind the screen door.

Mirrored by the cinematography’s transition from handheld work to helicopter-esque shots around the Trump Taj Mahal casino, the film shows you how money can change things. The cramped Bolt’s Gym contrasts with Frank’s gym, music and all, which further contrast with the Sparta tournament’s cages.

Tommy and Brendan’s desperation-driven struggle for success cuts – an elaborate Koba bout notwithstanding – through the competition with via knockout for Tommy and via submission for Brendan. This shows again in the final Tommy vs Brendan fight: Tommy  fights Brendan with one arm dislocated.

'Warrior' Premiere - Los Angeles

(from left to right) Brooke Burns and director/co-screenwriter Gavin O’Connor at an event for 2011’s Warrior (DigitalSpyUK.net Photo and Caption)

Very simplistically, director/co-screenwriter Gavin O’Connor’s 2011 feature film, Warrior, lives up to its title as men go to war against each other for glory and for survival.

Brothers fight, fathers loom large and a cool colour palette lets us see how it all develops from Pittsburgh to Atlantic City and impliedly back again. Mixed martial arts fandom or not, 2011’s Warrior is worth the rewatch.


(from left to right) Director/co-screenwriter Gavin O’Connor and star Nick Nolte on the set of their 2011 feature film, Warrior (Tastelink.com Photo)

Director O’Connor’s Trademarks in 2011’s Warrior:

  1. The family as a focus: the family of Paddy (father), Tommy and Brendan (sons) and Tess (daughter-in-law) and Emily and Rosie (granddaughters) is where a lot of 2011’s Warrior‘s non-physical conflict occurs.
  2. A stern father figure: there are several allusions to Paddy being an abusive and alcoholic father who Tommy and his mother had to escape from.
  3. Conflict between brothers: arguably more explicitly than either 2007’s Miracle or 2008’s Pride and Glory, 2011’s Warrior is based on the idea of brother versus brother conflict.

(Whilst the opinions and observations above are, unless stated otherwise, the author’s own, the following sources were used for information: IMDb.com)

The Reverse-Screenwriters’ Club (Spoilers Ensue):

Plot: two brothers must participate in a Mixed Martial Arts tournament to support the people they care about.

Prologue: Paddy attends church in Pittsburgh; Paddy heads home.

Act 1: Paddy decides to receive Tommy at home; Paddy decides to invite Tommy in.

Act 2: Paddy and Tommy decide to catch up; Paddy and Tommy decide to speak about Tommy’s mother.

Act 3: Brendan decides to celebrate his daughter’s birthday at home; Tommy decides to visit Colt’s Gym.

Act 4: Tommy decides to sign up at Colt’s Gym; Tommy decides to fight Mad Dog Grimes, successfully.

Act 5: Brendan decides to visit the bank; Brendan decides not to declare bankruptcy.

Act 6: Paddy decides to receive Colt Boyd at home; Paddy decides to not answer his questions about Tommy.

Act 7: Brendan decides to participate in the parking-lot tournament; Brendan decides to fight the Mutilator, successfully.

Act 8: Brendan decides to confide the truth to his wife, Tess; Brendan decides to give Tess the money.

Act 9: Tommy decides to visit Paddy at the café; Tommy decides to convince Paddy to train him, successfully.

Act 10: Brendan decides to meet Principal Zito; Brendan decides to accept his suspension from teaching.

Act 11: Brendan decides to speak to his wife about the tournament circuit; Brendan decides to convince her of its worth, successfully.

Act 12: Brendan decides to visit Frank’s gym; Brendan decides to convince Frank to train him, successfully.

Act 13: Brendan decides to receive Paddy outside his home; Brendan decides to send Paddy away.

Act 14: Tommy decides to speak to Colt Boyd about Sparta; Tommy decides to call Pilar, Manny’s wife.

Act 15: Brendan and Tommy decide to start training; Brendan and Frank decide to take the injured Marco to the hospital.

Act 16: Brendan decides to speak to Frank about participating in Sparta in Marco’s place; Brendan decides to convince Frank, successfully.

Act 17: Brendan decides to convince Tess about his participation in Sparta, unsuccessfully; Brendan, Tommy and Paddy decide to head to Atlantic City.

Act 18: Brendan and Frank and Tommy and Paddy decide to register in Atlantic City; Tommy decides not to speak to Brendan.

Act 19: Paddy decides to speak to Tommy about his war service; Tommy decides to leave the room.

Act 20: Brendan and Tommy decide to approach each other on the beach; Tommy decides to confront Brendan over his lack of support for Tommy.

Act 21: Tommy decides to fight Francisco; Tommy decides to knock Francisco out right away.

Act 22: Brendan decides to fight Midnight; Brendan decides to cause Midnight to submit, successfully.

Act 23: Brendan decides to fight Mad Dog Grimes; Brendan decides to cause him to submit, successfully.

Act 24: Tommy decides to fight Santana; Tommy decides to knock Santana out right away.

Act 25: Paddy decides to meet Tommy in the casino; Tommy decides to send Paddy away.

Act 26: Paddy decides to get drunk; Tommy decides to comfort him.

Act 27: Brendan decides to fight Koba; Brendan decides to keep fighting Koba.

Act 28: Brendan decides to take the fight to Koba; Brendan decides to cause Koba to submit, successfully.

Act 29: Brendan decides to confer with Frank and Tess in the locker room; Brendan decides to fight Tommy.

Act 30: Tommy and Brendan decide to enter the cage; Tommy decides to take the fight to Brendan.

Act 31: Tommy decides to keep the pressure on Brendan; Brendan decides to cause Tommy to submit, dislocating his arm.

Act 32: Tommy decides to keep fighting Brendan; Brendan decides to take the fight to Tommy.

Act 33: Brendan decides to kick Tommy down; Brendan decides to cause Tommy to submit, successfully.

Epilogue: Brendan decides to help Tommy out of the ring; they walk out together.

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