The Warrior (2001)
Directed by Asif Kapadia

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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While an unnamed warrior (Irfan Khan) serving a local lord somewhere in pre-modern Rajasthan is leading an attack on a village, he sees a girl wearing a necklace previously given to her by his own son, Katiba (Puru Chibber). This sight causes the warrior to have a vision of the Himalayas, which, in turn, convinces him to abandon his violent way of life. After the warrior does so, however, his lord sends that man's former underlings after him with orders to bring back his head. Although they subsequently present their lord with the head of another man, whom they had murdered when they were unable to find the warrior, several of the men sent after him remain determined to kill him. They consequently follow the warrior as he treks across the deserts of Rajasthan towards the Himalayas.

Asif Kapadia's The Warrior is a lovely and moving film that, although far from perfect, is sure to mesmerize the viewer throughout its duration.

The story the director tells is delightfully simple, but its very simplicity gives it a depth, an ability to conjure up poignant emotions, that few other movies have. While he enthralls the viewer with his protagonist, Kapadia, wisely, does not indulge in some trite psychoanalysis of this character. Nor does he either concoct an overly intricate narrative, so that he can foist some supposedly ingenious revelation on the moviegoer, or attempt to trick him into thinking that he is learning a lesson. Instead, the director relates a tale of one man's regret and pain that enables the viewer to feel those emotions as though they were his own.

What is more, not only has Kapadia crafted a touching narrative, but he has also brought it to life with a magical visual style. There is hardly a moment in the movie during which the viewer is not presented with some stunning or affecting image. The barren landscapes of the deserts of Rajasthan lend the film a sense of vastness and grandeur with their wide, sparse expanses, as well as a poetic simplicity with their stark, limited colors. The director does not, however, confine himself only to such images, but punctuates his work with depictions of the vibrant but harsh lives of the peoples inhabiting this land and with visions of the faces of his actors.

Fortunately, Irfan Khan has a wonderfully expressive face. Although the film has relatively little dialogue, the actor is able to convey the profundity of his character's emotions with the slightest movement of his eyes or the smallest gesture. Even though several of the other actors acquit themselves well, it is, without a doubt, the lead who will make an impression on the viewer.

In spite of such virtues, The Warrior is hardly without flaws. There are times when Kapadia is somewhat heavy-handed, and a few scenes are, consequently, either overblown or bring out their themes in ways that are entirely too obvious. The protagonist's lord, for instance, appears to be a creature of pure evil, and a judgmental old woman whom the hero later encounters exists only to drive home points the director makes elsewhere with far greater subtlety.

Whatever its shortcomings, The Warrior is a captivating, affecting, and genuinely lovely movie. It is, perhaps, the best film to have come out of India in some time.

Review by Keith Allen

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