Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Warrior Part 2: Brendan

(Click here for Part 1)


Tommys story is a mess, but his character is straight out of a romance novel or a teen movie. Hes the angry young man with the heros heart and a dark and mysterious past. Brendan, on the other hand, is just a normal guy, a teacher with a wife and two daughters. He is the nice one, the Jon Bon Jovi to Tommys W Axl Rose.

Tommys scenes are all gritty, grey, and despairing. Brendans world is filmed in vibrant colours, from the paint on his cheeks when we meet him at his daughters birthday party to the brightly lit school where he teaches. Tommy works out at the gym surrounded by grim, sallow-faced toughs in dark hoodies; Brendans students are colorfully dressed and energetic. Tommys night scenes are shot in darkness and shadow; Brendans blaze with the golden hues of sunset.

Their stories, too, are different. Tommys is an incomprehensible mishmash of anger, heroism, and angst. Brendans story is he wants to win the tournament because the prize money will let him keep his house.

Simple. Boring, even. Theres no mysterious past. Theres no fallen friends or life-saving feats of derring-do.  Its a  guy trying to keep his house. And that simplicity works to the Brendan storys advantage. With less going on, the character has room to breathe. We get a chance to get to know him.

Naturally, we make comparisons. Brendan has his life together where Tommy is damaged. Tommy is the dark; Brendan, the light. Tommy is a kamikaze with no target on a headlong rush for self-destruction. Brendan is trying to build a life for himself and his loved ones.

Tommy is out of control. Brendan.

Brendan is a control freak.

I  missed that in Brendan the first time I watched the movie, probably because I was too busy cheering for him. Normal, decent people with wives and families dont tend to do well in movies. They tend to either get killed or be shuttled off to the side as supporting characters. The common thinking is we want our heroes to be mad, bad, and dangerous to know. We want the obsessives, the Bad Boys, those damaged individuals with broken lives who dont play by the rules.

Not me. I was behind Brendan the whole way, to the point of resenting Tommy whenever he came on screen (Oh, of COURSE hes a war hero too. And then hes going to redeem himself, maybe by letting Brendan win the tournament, even though to everyone its clear hes the better fighter…”)

Ive always been a Laszlo guy. Fuck Rick.

Brendan, though, isnt a saint. Hes a good man, but he makes selfish decisions. In his first scene, its apparent he overspent on a birthday present in spite of a prior agreement he had with his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison). He lies to her about not fighting until theres no way around it, and even when he comes clean, he never says it out loud, leaving his wife to make the implication.

Furthermore, his unilateral choice to participate in the parking lot fight puts Principal Zito (Kevin Dunn), a man he is clearly friends with, in an uncomfortable situation. It also gets him suspended without pay. So while Brendans decision to enter Sparta to earn the money to save his home is a noble one, its hard to ignore that the problem he is trying to solve is at least partially of his own creation.

When he gets his opportunity to fight in the tournament, he takes it without talking to his wife, despite the fact SHES STANDING RIGHT THERE.

BRENDAN: Im in. Im going.

TESS: Really? Thats your decision. You decided? Cause I really enjoyed that conversation we had about making that decision together.

Tess lists her concerns: her worries over Brendans safety, the type of opposition hell be facing. To her, the money isnt as important to her as the well-being of her family.

Brendan chooses to hear that as Tess thinking he cant do it, something she never once said.

Which, by the way, was a kindness on her part, because lets face it: Tess doesnt know shes in a sports movie. She can hardly be faulted for forming a belief based on the available evidence, and the available evidence paints a pretty clear picture. Even in his best days, Brendan was not exactly Anderson Silva in there. Hell, he wasnt even Michael Bisping.

Tess also points out that if Brendan DOES get  hurt and ends up in the hospital--not outside the realm of possibility considering its exactly what happened last time -- not only will there be no money, but there will be even more billshospital bills.

Which is a pretty good point. And not only do you have more expenses, what about income? How many jobs can you work  from a hospital bed? What happens then for money? Is TESS going to enter next years tournament?

And Brendan hears her and understands. He holds her and provides comfort while listening to her deepest fears. He reminds her of their connection, the strength of their years together, of their foundation of mutual love and support, and tells her that while this is important to him, she is important too and he wants to hear everything she has to say.

Ha, ha. Just kidding.

What Brendan does is say, Im gonna go, okay? But Id really love it if youd be with me on this.

To which I reply, Oh, go fuck yourself, Brendan.

Brendan is a nice guy, but Brendan also does what Brendan wants to do, the way he wants to do it. His participation in the smokers (and, if were being picky, the omission of his fighting background on his resume) is a lie of omission to Principal Zito.

During the confrontation outside his home, Brendan tells his father hes forgiven him--and there we see him lie again, not just to his father, but to himself. Brendan has convinced himself hes drawing boundaries when hes in reality putting up barriers.

There is only one person Brendan doesnt lie to, and that is his trainer Frank (Frank Grillo).

That doesnt stop him from trying to do things his way. He refuses Franks loan and instead insists on training--starting immediately. When Franks fighter is hurt, Brendan pushes to be the replacement.

But he doesnt lie to him. He CANT lie to him.

Because Frank knows Brendan better than he knows himself.

Brendan has no shortage of supports in his life. He has a wife and daughters, friends and students. But Brendan grew up in an alcoholic family, and no matter how many people care about him, he is a man who has learned to rely only on himself. He may be an excellent at taking care of his family, but he is not one to allow himself to be taken care of.

The exception is Frank.

We see it in the silence in the locker room before the first fight. When Frank finally speaks, the only words he says are the ones Brendan needs to hear.

We see in the fight scenes: Frank is Brendans eyes and ears, his lifeline, his tether in the storm. When Brendan is in trouble, it is Franks voice we hear reminding him to Breathe, breathe. During the fights, between rounds, or in the locker room, Frank is there.

We hear it in Tesss voice when she tells Frank on the phone Youve been spending so much time with Brendan, its like youre part of the family or something. Handing the phone over to Brendan she tells him, Its your boyfriend.

Shes joking--but shes also not. Shes hurt.

Frank tells Brendan things he wont hear from anyone else. When Brendan claims hes been fighting, Frank immediately guesses everything his fighter isnt telling him. Moments later, he spells Brendans problem out for him: You never listen to anyone.

After agreeing to train Brendan, the first thing Frank asks is whether his once and future protégé has let his wife in on his decision. Frank knows Brendan, he cares about him, but he also knows where and how he will fuck things up.

As it turns out, his prediction is absolutely right.

It is only while talking with Frank that Brendan comes as close as he ever does to admitting his own role in his financial plight. The parking lot thing kind of got me suspended, he says sheepishly. He is embarrassed about it.

But he also knows he cant lie to Frank.

Frank, Tess, Principal Zito and Brendans studentsthis is the difference between Brendans life and Tommys.

Sure, they have different personalities. Yes, they fight differently. The filmmakers unquestionably use lighting to contrast them with one another.

But at heart they are much the same. Theyve both learned that when it comes down to it, the only person they can trust is themselves.

This is where Brendan is lucky.

Because Brendan has people around who are willing to tell him when hes full of shitand they support him anyway.

In the movie, Tommys fans are strangers. Theyre marines offering their support, fight fans who saw him beat Mad Dog Grimes on the internet, and gym rats. Men cheer for him. Attractive young women wearing skimpy tank-tops hold up signs and scream (Of course they do. Fuck you, Tommy, you damaged-but-heroic sexually irresistible dickhead).

Brendans support comes from the people around him.

Frank is a always there. Principal Zito watches the first fight on his couch,  the second with his wife, and by the third has joined Brendans students at the Drive-In movie (They still have those?) to watch on the big screen.

And Tess? She spends the first fight folding towels, and trying not to look at the phone. She watches the second on TV. By the Koba fight, she is in the audience.

And before the finals, she is in the locker room with Brendan. Up until that moment, Frank is the only person weve seen in share that space with Brendan.

Hes finally let her in.

*  *  *

Brendan doesnt have any scenes with his father after their confrontation on his front lawn. Nevertheless, we see signs of his softening. The first time Pop gives Brendan a thumbs up during the tournament, he ignores it. The second time, he acknowledges it, just a little. In the finals, when Tommy and Brendan meet in the middle of the ring, Brendans question is Wheres Pop?

Maybe, just maybe, Brendan is learning that the people we love the most are still flawedand that it is possible to let them in anyway.

Wonder who taught him that?

NEXT: Part 3: the Tournament

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