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'The Warrior' fights the good fight

There's no official war in ''The Warrior." No easily attainable peace either. Brutality is simply a constant in this redemptive saga -- part of a time and place as ancient and vague as most of man's reasons for bloodshed.

Maybe that's why the film's violence is deliberately nonspecific, and suggested more than shown. British director Asif Kapadia and his co-writer, Tim Miller, have in mind a work that's universal, lyrical, mystical . . . transcendent, even.

Yeah, that's it.

Like most things, the success of ''The Warrior" depends on what you believe. If you view simplicity as a weakness, this film probably won't sit well over the long haul. But if you can forgive its lapses in storytelling and character development, then Kapadia's 2001 feature filmmaking debut delivers, at minimum, an impressive visual account of a worthwhile spiritual journey.

The central character here is Lafcadia (Irfan Khan), a longtime enforcer for a vicious Rajput warlord (Anupam Shyam) in northwest India. The Rajputs live in remote outposts in the desert and mountains where they favor chain-mail attire and beheadings, which is about all the film reveals of their history. What we know about Lafcadia is he cares deeply for his adolescent son, Katiba (Puru Chibber), even when he's out killing, raping, and pillaging as part of his day job.

The henchman isn't looking for a makeover, until one day he has an epiphany while out torching a village: He's meant to shear his hair and lay down his sword for good. Only problem is the warlord doesn't have much use for quitters, so Lafcadia finds himself fleeing from the same assassins he once knew as colleagues.

Anyone familiar with redemption stories knows that the antihero has to lose the thing he most loves in order to atone and be saved, thus it follows that Lafcadia says goodbye to Katiba early on. The warrior then ambles grief-stricken toward his mountain homeland, along the way finding a surrogate son in an orphaned thief (Noor Mani) and getting guidance from a blind woman (Damayanti Marfatia), before a finale that can be spotted from the farthest hilltop.

Kapadia is upfront about his influences, so we don't need to speculate about scenes and shots that seem lifted straight from the spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone or the period epics of Akira Kurosawa and Zhang Yimou. If it feels as though you've seen this movie somewhere else, you have -- minus cinematographer Roman Osin's sweeping shots of India's scorching Rajasthani Desert and the rugged western Himalayas, which have sufficient mystical qualities all by themselves.

What really makes ''The Warrior" worthwhile is its indomitable soul, conveyed in its landscapes, yes, but even more so in every close-up shot of its tormented and accountable leading man. As one of the few professional actors in this cast, Khan probably knew the burden of a minimalist script going in. His quiet performance carries the film, and his puffy, worldweary eyes haunt every frame, even after the camera's focus drifts heavenward to let the end credits roll.

We may wish ''The Warrior" had been written and paced as creatively as it's shot and acted, but we accept that imperfect movies, like imperfect humans, can still do extraordinary things. And anything extraordinary can make the whole lot more redeemable.

Janice Page can be reached at

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