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Peaceful Warrior Review

By Shawn McKenzie 06/26/2006

I came into the screening of Peaceful Warrior, director Victor Salva’s adaptation of former gymnast/self-help writer Dan Millman’s 1980 autobiography Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives (using a screenplay written by Kevin Bernhardt), with mixed feelings.  I had seen clips of the movie on “Ebert & Roeper,” and they seemed a little boring.  When I finally saw the movie, I wasn’t bored…but I did have a different negative reaction ultimately.

Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz) is a UC Berkeley gymnast who has everything going for him.  He doesn’t have any money worries, he is good looking, he has talent, he has good grades, and the women flock all around him.  He even has a chance at the Olympic qualifiers in men’s gymnastics.  According to him though, he feels like he won’t make it if he doesn’t do the triple on the rings.  This keeps him up at night with nightmares.  One night at three in the morning, while sleeping with Dory (Beatrice Rosen), the ex-girlfriend of fellow gymnast Tommy Warner (Ashton Holmes), Dan has one of those nightmares, so he goes out for a run.  While running through the foggy dark, Dan ends up at a well-lit Texaco service station with an old man (Nick Nolte) behind the counter.  Dan buys some snacks and milk, and the man sits on a chair in front of the station door.  When Dan looks back, he is surprised to see the man on the roof.  The next night, he goes back to find the man to ask him how he did it, and the man starts giving Dan several philosophies (but he never gets around to telling Dan how he got up there.)  Dan starts calling him Socrates and he thinks that this old service station owner might be the key to finding a way to win the Olympic Gold.  The next night, Dan meets Joy (Amy Smart), a woman who brings Socrates his food, and has the same tendency to give out self-help tips herself.  Meanwhile, Socrates agrees to train Dan, but not before putting him through a regime that includes cutting out things like junk food, drinking, and sex.  He also has him do Karate Kid wax on/wax off things like cleaning the station’s toilets.  This new lifestyle change starts to alienate his friends/team members, like Tommy, Trevor Scott (Paul Wesley), Kyle (B.J. Britt.)  His performance on his Gymnastics squad also starts to suffer, which almost forces his coach, Mr. Garrick (Tim DeKay) to consider dropping him.  After Socrates forces Dan to “take out the trash” in his head, i.e. clear his mind, he does an amazing routine on the Pommel Horse.  Dan is excited about learning this new “taking out the trash” trick, but Socrates doesn’t consider it a trick.  Eventually, Dan becomes frustrated with Socrates and figures that he doesn’t need the old man’s help anymore.  That day, Dan gets into a horrible motorcycle accident that shatters one of his legs, forcing the doctors to have to put a steel rod in it.  Doctor Hayden (Ray Wise) tells him that, with hard work, he’ll eventually walk again, but his gymnastic dreams are over.  It might take a little bit of Socrates’ mind power to achieve goals that most would consider impossible…assuming that Socrates ever existed at all.

Millman’s book is technically called a “fictionalized autobiography”…but that feels like an oxymoron.  When you start a movie out with the words “based on true events,” you expect some reality to your movie.  Yet Socrates is appearing on rooftops in a split second, materializing in Dan’s bed while he is getting it on with a girl, and forcing Dan to have a heightened sense of his surroundings.  In reality, people don’t have those kind of powers.

To make things worse, Socrates spouts pretentious “wisdom” throughout the movie as if he was Yoda or Mr. Miyagi.  Coming from Nolte, it was hard to take him seriously, because the whole time I couldn’t get the image of his famous mugshot out of my head.

There were some good parts of the movie, like some cool visuals and the acting.  The opening dream sequence in which Dan imagines his leg shattering into a bunch of pieces was an interesting way to start the movie.  Nolte, Mechlowicz, and Smart played their parts well, but with Nolte constantly uttering his goofy philosophies, and Smart going in and out of the movie at random times (a post-note before the end credits finally reveal the purpose of her character, but by that time, you really don’t care), the parts they were required to play were ridiculous.

I kept an open mind about Peaceful Warrior, but it in the end let me down.  Unless you are a fan of the book, you will probably have the same confusion as me about wondering why they consider it a “true story.”  Heck…even 50 Cent’s awful 2005 flick Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was inspired by the rapper’s own true-life story, was more grounded in reality than this attempt to motivate audiences.  It doesn’t help that I also hated Salva’s last “inspirational” movie, 1995’s Powder (though I did like both of the Jeepers Creepers movies.)  If you try to go and see the movie, remember what Socrates says, “No.  Try not.  Do...or do not.  There is no try.”  (Wait…maybe that was Yoda…)

Get the 20th anniversary edition of Dan Millman's 1980 autobiography Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives:

Get the soundtrack featuring pieces of Dan Millman's philosophy, along with songs by David Gray, Bird York, Dropping Daylight, Jon Anderson, and more:

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