What It’s About: A lax bro (Kellan Lutz) must stay out of both the literal and figurative crease in order to attack the net of his own heart.
Who It’s For: People who are curious what Kellan Lutz looks like with his shirt off at different times of day, paired with different types of pants.
I shouldn’t be reviewing this movie, not for this column. This column is meant for weird straight-to-video garbage and films produced exclusively for the purpose of dodging taxes in Germany, and in a just world A Warrior’s Heart would have made $400 million. The Oscars would have already been renamed The Warrior’s Hearts. “And the Lutzie goes to Kellan Lutz!” Alas, these things didn’t come to pass. I tried to see A Warrior’s Heart when it came out and it played in one Manhattan movie theater for about three days. I don't know what went wrong. On paper, it seems perfect. Twilight beefcake Kellan Lutz stars as a troubled high school lacrosse star trying to get his life back on track after a family tragedy. He’s so sick at lacrosse it’s crazy. The movie deals with universal themes with which we can all empathize: themes like switching from a West Coast to East Coast style of lacrosse play, losing your position as right-side attack, one arm’s shot play being weaker than the other, etc. I could go on. These are universal themes.
The problem may have been biases by so-called critics. As one five-star review on Netflix succinctly explains: “Well I have learned one thing from reviews.. Lots people said they did not like this movie.. ahhh thats is from the farthest form the truth.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Do critics not realize that lacrosse — or “lax,” as everyone who is chill calls it — is one of the chillest activities on the planet, one criminally underrepresented on film? Sometimes I feel like no major American film critics are lax bros, that none of them spent afternoons packing a lip and breaking in lacrosse stick pockets at their East Coast boarding school.
I went to an East Coast boarding school, and though I did not play lacrosse, I think the culture surrounding it is fascinating and hilarious. While I weep along with the rest of the world at football heartbreak in Friday Night Lights, the same drama applied to lacrosse is very funny to me. That is unfair, and if you are reading this while wearing a T-shirt that says “Now Entering Laxachusetts,” I apologize. But if you are wearing that T-shirt, you are also probably white and upper middle class, so I bet you’ll do fine in life with or without my apology.
Lacrosse is an activity about which large swaths of the population know nothing, but that alone is not enough to stop it from being a great movie. In fact, it could help. I had never heard of drumlines before Drumline, and I’ve now seen Drumline about a dozen times. But the drumming in that movie was awesome, or at least it looked it, and the lacrosse in A Warrior’s Heart looks like it’s being played entirely by actors who heard of the sport right after they booked the part. I don’t actually know what great lacrosse is supposed to look like, but it should not look like how I imagine I’d look trying to awkwardly scoop the ball up and keep it from falling out of the pocket. You, the reader, have no way of knowing how good I am at sports, but you have my word I am very bad at them. I am not coordinated. I’m less of a “throw me the rock” kind of guy and more of an “I spilled sauce on my pants” kind of guy.
The plot of A Warrior’s Heart is mercifully simple. Kellan Lutz plays Conor Sullivan, a high school lacrosse player on the West Coast. Conor’s dad moves the family back to the East Coast so Conor can join the team at dad’s alma mater, Brierfield, giving Conor a shot at recruitment by the Naval Academy. When Conor’s dad is killed in Iraq, Conor spins out of control, attacking players and also a trophy case and landing himself in jail. An old Marine buddy of his dad’s, Sergeant Wayne, takes Conor to a work program at his Indian reservation; there Conor learns the true meaning of himself, warriors, lacrosse, his dad, discipline, hard work, Indians, and a good night’s sleep. He rejoins his prep school lacrosse team and helps them win the first East-West High School Lacrosse National Championship. He kisses the coach’s daughter. He gets to go play lacrosse at Navy and hold an American flag in the air.
Though the story may be straightforward, it overflows with nuance. Here are some of my favorite parts:
- Ashley Greene plays Brooklyn, and she also provides voice-over for the movie, voice-over that makes very little sense. The film opens with her saying, "This is the story about the guy I fell for. But to really understand why, you've got to know a little bit about the game he loves. It requires speed and agility, teamwork, strategy, and a bit of violence." That sure sounds like every sport. Is there any sport that doesn’t require that? “Baseball requires short legs, irritable bowel syndrome, horse blinders, and whatever Rogue has that didn’t let her touch people without gloves on.”
- The Brierfield coach is full of intense lax zingers. "We play real lacrosse here. Not that West Coast field hockey." Boom. Take that, West Coast. Ironically, the West Coast calls the type of field hockey Brierfield plays “East Coast freeze tag.” Someone is going to get shot over this.
- More Brooklyn wisdom: “An even older name for lacrosse is the Creator’s Game. The Native Americans played for the Creator, and sometimes I think that’s why we do anything at all.” Man, sometimes I think that too. When I was watching A Warrior’s Heart, I was all, “Why am I doing this? Oh yeah, for the Creator.” (The Creator is what I call Bill Simmons.)
- Conor’s dad gets back from Iraq in time to surprise Conor at the game. He hasn’t seen his children in nearly a year, and in front of them he starts whispering dirty things to his wife. He wants to fuck his wife in front of his sons! They kiss really hard. Conor says, “Get a room, Dad.” A room to fuck, he means.
- In his opening game, Conor calls an opposing player Riggins. I assumed this was a winking reference to Friday Night Lights. But that player appears again in the movie’s climactic final scene, facing off against Conor for the title. I think calling your high school sports movie character Riggins is a bit much, Warrior’s Heart. It begs comparisons that are not favorable.
- Speaking of that, FNL was very smart in how it filmed football; there were lots of fast cuts and shots of the crowd reacting. This movie has long, lingering shots of slow, awkward lacrosse played in completely empty stadiums. They look like closed scrimmages. Brierfield is supposed to be pretty amazing at lacrosse and no one shows up to a single one of its lacrosse games. They probably don't show up because Brierfield seems like it’s terrible at sports.
- We hear announcers at the championship game, even though we don’t see them. They just talk about the game like we are all watching it on TV. “Thanks for being part of a great championship game.” Who are you talking to? There are no cameras in the field. No one is watching this game.
- The romantic leads are named Conor Sullivan and Brooklyn Milligan. What a ring those names have about them. They should hyphenate them when they get married. “Hi, we’re Conor and Brooklyn Milligan-Sullivan. These are our children, Birmingham and Craigory.” They sound like a racist Irish vaudeville act. “But Brook-a-leen, I-a don’t have any po-tay-toes.” “Oh, Conor. I said TOE-may-toes.”
- The school’s name is Brierfield Academy. It very closely resembles the real prep school Deerfield Academy. This is like setting your movie at Ivy League schools called Winceton, Dale, and Schmarvard.
- Conor longboards to practice, because of course he does. There is no chiller way to get between two places than a long skateboard. When you are nasty at lax, every destination is downhill.
- Insanely, this movie does not use the word “lax” once.
- There’s lots of chest puffing between Kellan Lutz and Chord Overstreet, who is such a tiny dweeb. “You’re not taking my spot.” "Do you play right side attack?" "Damn straight." "Then I'm definitely taking your spot." Correct, because Kellan Lutz is nine times Chord’s size.
- Brooklyn continues her narration: “Before a warrior lets you in, they have to let themselves in. They have to learn their own heart.”
- During his dad’s wake, Conor's in his dad's convertible and Brooklyn makes him feel better with a pat on the back. She suggests they practice. Brooklyn and Conor go to the field to take some vicious rips at the net.
- Less than 30 days after Conor's dad dies, the coach still can’t put up with Conor’s fighting. "I was just talking with your mother about letting you play again. You know, it's been a month." A whole month. How long are you gonna blame everything on your dad dying a few weeks ago, Conor? You need to run more laps.
- Conor doesn't have much patience for how his own mother handles her husband’s death. She says, “Honey, I know this is hard for you.” Conor replies, “Do you? You need to suck it up, Mom.” Moms definitely need to suck it up.
- Sergeant Wayne attacks Conor again and again during a lacrosse game, until Conor finally takes a swing at him. Wayne puts him in a sleeper hold, and Conor passes out. Let me remind you that Wayne is a forty-something Marine, and Conor is a 17-year-old child. Even better, he stays passed out, and wakes up in the field the next morning. Is that how sleeper holds work? Are they like Ambien, where you just doze peacefully for 8 to 12 hours?
- At the work camp, Conor learns that "In life and lacrosse you know you've failed." But according to those T-shirts, I thought lax was life?
- Brooklyn again: "It's hard to say whether warriors are born, or made by circumstances." It is very hard to say that.
- After everything Conor learns at warrior camp or whatever it was, he realizes he is at peace. "Anywhere there's a couple goals and a field, I'll find a game. I'm a lacrosse player. And that's the one thing nobody can take away from me." It would be so easy to take away lacrosse from someone. You need a stick to play.
- Incredibly, it turns out the reason Coach rode Conor so hard, about lacrosse and his daughter Brooklyn, was that Conor’s dad stole Coach’s girlfriend in college and then married her. “Your dad’s one weakness was Claire.” And now Coach’s wife “has been gone a long time” and Conor is about to steal away his daughter. Great family, those Sullivans. What’s with the mysterious “gone a long time” line? Is Conor’s mom also Brooklyn’s mom? Are they brother and sister? That is a very strange message. Conor loves the irony. He says to his dad up in heaven, “I met a girl, Dad. Best part is, she’s Milligan’s daughter.” That is the best part. The best part of any relationship is if it hurts someone else, again. As Brooklyn might say, a warrior is someone who has spilled blood on the field of battle, or someone who for no reason, again and again, spites people that try to help him.
When You Should Watch It: At 5 a.m. every morning before lacrosse practice. It's your only option if you want to watch a boring movie about prep school lacrosse and its connections to its Native American roots, except Crooked Arrows, which is the same thing and came out this year. Kellan Lutz or Brandon Routh? Don’t make me choose!