Asif Kapadia’s The Warrior is a work of rare and consuming integrity. This brilliant new British director made his debut at 29, in 2001, when The Warrior was released widely in Europe. Only in 2005 has it finally been released in the United States.
The film is placed entirely – and spectacularly shot, with the painterly prowess of a Zhang Yimou – in India of long ago. It is a work onto itself, without regard to convention or audience comfort. Kapadia does not bother to introduce his subject or to invite viewers into the world he depicts; he thrusts them into it with the first frame and he doesn’t stop until about an hour into the film when there is a brief episode not involving gripping, threatening, breathtaking conflict.
The new star in the title role, Irfan Khan, is also making his debut, but he has a face, a presence that you feel you have always known. He plays the top warrior, the enforcer and executioner for a inhumanly cruel warlord, a man slaughtering men, women and children of the villages which don’t pay their taxes in full. When he suddenly stops killing and seeks a different life, the hunter becomes the hunted.
From this point on, when Hollywood would follow one of two or three possible scenarios, Kapadia continues to enthrall the viewer, the story unfolding in its own unique, riveting way, never becoming slack, lazy, or predictable. Intensity continues unabated, suffused with meaning and complexity.
From India’s Rajasthani Desert to the Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh, there are spectacular backdrops, but Roman Osin’s camera is consistently on the faces – ancient, stoic faces (most of the cast never acted before) showing the barest signs of emotion – magnified in context and in the close-ups. At the most horrendous moment of The Warrior, the face on which the reaction might be expected is suddenly hidden by the camera shifting up so that all that is seen is a riot of colorful turbans. The desire to see that disappearing face is strong, but, at the same time, there is relief at not witnessing it.
– Janos Gereben