“You construct intricate rituals which allow you to touch the skin of other men” is how Barbara Kruger put it in her seminal 1981 conceptual art piece. A Warrior’s Heart enacts those “intricate rituals” in the most oblivious and unbearable ways, as its oafish hero, hotheaded high schooler Conor (Kellan Lutz), tries to mimic his military father’s own trajectory of belligerent hyper-masculinity on the lacrosse field.
The father (Chris Potter) is a colonel in the army who shows up unannounced from war to take the family from California to the East Coast, where Conor is to attend the same private school he once went to. Although Conor’s new peers aren’t happy with the arrival of new alpha-male competition, he makes a good impression on the coach and gets into the school’s lacrosse team, where he can run around a field with a phallic prosthesis in hand and an uncontrollable need to smash people and things. Boys will be boys, after all, especially when taken from their usual habitat. In one of Conor’s (non-)emotional outbursts, he breaks the school’s glass trophy case into pieces and ends up at a Native American bootcamp of sorts where he can learn from real warriors on how to “be a real man” without showing any emotion.
Although it may be giving this agonizingly formulaic film too much credit, there’s something quite incestuous about the father-son relationship here—in the way the son is supposed to bear the imposed inheritance of the father, to reproduce his trajectory step by step. At one point, father gives son a long lacrosse stick as a gift, accompanied by a “joke” that it’s a bouquet of roses. The obligation to perform masculinity in the exact same way of the father is never questioned. It’s Conor’s inability to hide his anger that’s seen as shameful—an anger the film sees not as a symptom, but as a flaw that must be fixed through physical labor.
A Warrior’s Heart doesn’t just ooze sexism by the way it demands a perfect emulation of hetero-masculinity from its characters, but also in the way women are portrayed as cosmetic add-ons to a world of white men. They are either mothers who tell their sons to “stand up and be a man” or cute skinny cheerleaders who we never even actually see cheering. While it’s Conor’s girl crush who narrates the film, her voice only comes up here and there, usually to utter some cliché about a warrior needing to know his own heart. The film is otherwise plastered with pop songs with lyrics that are supposed to remind us how the characters are feeling. At times, A Warrior’s Heart is so inept at developing itself as a film that it hands in all of its devices to the soundtrack itself and becomes a music video. Offensive.