Warrior | 2011
What’s better than an underdog movie? A film with two underdogs, that’s what.
Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy), an ex-Marine haunted by his past, returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh to enlist his father, retired steelworker and recovering alcoholic Paddy (Nick Nolte), to train him for a brutal Mixed Martial Arts tournament which offers a phenomenal cash prize.
The twist is that Paddy’s estranged other son, schoolteacher Brendan (Joel Edgerton), enters the same contest to escape his own financial hardship.
The original script was set in Long Beach, California, but the story made a perfect fit for Pittsburgh, taking advantage of Pennsylvania’s film-making tax incentives. The climactic scenes, which were to be set at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, were changed to Atlantic City.
Paddy lives in Marshall-Shadeland, a neighbourhood across the Ohio River on Pittsburgh's North Side. He meets up with Tommy at breakfast in nearby Don’s Diner, 1729 Eckert Street, beneath the towering concrete arch carrying the 65th Infantry Division Memorial Highway.
‘Colt’s Gym’, where Tommy trains, was a since-demolished building on the south side of Liberty Avenue, between 30th and 31st Streets, in the Strip District, northeast of downtown. That’s the green dome of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 3058 Brereton Avenue, Polish Hill, looming above the premises.
In fact, most of the film was made in Pittsburgh, including ‘Philadelphia‘ scenes – the school in which Brendan teaches physics is actually North Hills High School, 135 6th Avenue, north toward Ross Township.
Even the ‘Iraqi’ war zone was staged in a parking lot on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.
The movie builds to Sparta, the 16-man, single-elimination tournament, held at the Boardwalk Hall (formerly Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall), 2301 Boardwalk, in Atlantic City.
There are establishing shots of Atlantic City and the exterior of the Hall, with Tommy and Brendan meeting up on the beach by the famous Boardwalk, but the fights are staged back in Pittsburgh, at the Petersen Events Center, 3719 Terrace Street. The Center was more recently used as the 'Seoul 1988' Olympic Games wrestling venue in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum.
The ‘Philadelphia’ drive-in, where the schoolkids (and the headmaster) root for Mr C during the big fight, is the Twin Hi-Way Drive-In, 5588 Steubenville Pike, Robinson Township. Closed in 1996, this old-style cinema was brought back to life in 2007, on a stretch of the old Lincoln Highway, formerly designated US 22 / US 30, hence the name 'Twin-Hi Ways'.