Just as Quentin Tarantino happily plugged countless Asian imports for Miramax, Asif Kapadia’s The Warrior, the story of a brutal Rajput mercenary who goes straight and subsequently incurs the wrath of the warlord who employed him, reaches American shores under an equally dubious banner: “Anthony Minghella Presents.” This type of promotion is ridiculous: Not only does Minghella have absolutely nothing to do with the film’s production but his name sets up a worrying level of expectation (“Please, not another Cold Mountain!”). In the end, the only thing in common between Kapadia and his film’s master of ceremonies is that the intersection of the past and present in The Warrior recalls the epic ritual of denial that serves as the foundation for Minghella’s only good film, Truly Madly Deeply.
After his defection, Lafcadia (Irfan Khan) takes to wandering barren landscapes and remote mountain villages, haunted by the memory of his dead son and pursued by his former cohort Biswas (Aino Annuddin). In a young thief (Noor Mani), Lafcadia finds a substitute for his son, and in one of the most touching sequences in the film, finds himself playing with the boy in the same way he did with his son before his death. Lafcadia’s decision to abandon his mercenary ways starves for a convincing justification, but Khan’s expressive eyes fill in the gaps by evoking his character’s crisis as a hunger for spiritual salvation. This makes Lafcadia’s interaction with a blind woman (Damayanti Marfitia) especially compelling: Lafcaida carries the woman in his arms to a place called the Holy Lake, but after sensing the man’s bloody past by touching his face with her trembling hand, the woman denies him what is understood to be an act of penance.
There’s raping, pillaging, and beheading in the film, but Kapadia keeps much of the film’s violence off-screen, which does more harm than good at times: This G-grade presentation of R-rated horror perpetuates confusion (is Biswas putting on a show when he slices the throat of Lafcadia’s son?). And while many of the characters, namely the priggish warlord played by Anupam Shyam, are cartoonish, and the story’s delineation of right and wrong is scarcely complex (in essence, thieving and bloodletting is justified if it benefits the disenfranchised), The Warrior‘s narrative economy is impressive. I much prefer the full-throated passion of The Gate of the Sun, but it’s to the film’s credit that it’s able to say so much with very little words and even less righteousness.