[Cue obligatory sing-along with Scandal's 1980s hit "The Warrior" because I'm just that dorky.]
This is a movie I probably wouldn't have seen had it not been for very enthusiastic responses coming out of an Ain't It Cool screening. I put it off a little while (hence my lateness) because fight movies aren't typically my thing, unless they are largely about something else (such as Million Dollar Baby). As such, I feel like I could have skipped this one. That's not to say it's a bad movie, but it's just not my kind of movie. I also have to say that the fact that the director also made Miracle was not a selling point for me. "Inspirational" "sports" films are rarely my cup of tea.
That's not to say that Warrior is a bad movie or that there weren't things I enjoyed about it, because it's not and there certainly were. I thought the performances all around were really great. Nick Nolte, I thought, was especially strong in a pretty thankless, generic role. The fight choreography was incredible, and the ending was surprisingly suspenseful.
It was an interesting decision to leave the abuse backstory mostly off-page, with only a few references here and there, but it doesn't do the characters any favors. The brothers seem less sympathetic, because we never see what they suffered at the hands of their father. Nick Nolte's character passes 1000 days of sobriety (and then falls off the wagon briefly), but we can't be invested in it because we haven't seen what he was like when he was a drunk and a wife/child-beater. And the one time we see him drunk he's just kind of sad, not scary like we've been told he used to be. It's just hard to get invested in a family's history when you're only allowed to hear about it.
Another thing I found a bit strange was a handful of shots of people watching the "Sparta" tournament on television. There were crowd scenes in the actual arena, sure, but all the reaction shots of people watching were of people just by themselves, which felt a bit unnatural (until the end, of course, when the students are watching the final fights at the drive-in). You want, when you watch scenes like that, to be inspired to jump up and cheer yourself, and I just wasn't feeling it, and it didn't feel like the movie was even interested in arousing that response.
I did like the (somewhat) suspense of the ending, because all the way through the tournament you're cheering for both brothers. I say somewhat because if you've seen the trailer you already know that they end up fighting each other in the final. You want to see them both win, and they both have very sympathetic stories, but I found myself wondering who to root for in the end. It didn't take long to figure out who the winner *had* to be, from a narrative standpoint, and I guess you could imagine that the winner could have shared a bit of the prize money with the other brother. I wondered how that all worked out as the credits rolled, but I was kind of relieved the movie didn't show it to us.
I sort of giggled at the big confrontation scene on the beach, because it looks like both brothers randomly decided to go walking on the beach and just happened to come across each other. That scene is probably the strongest in the movie, and I'm so glad they got all that out there and didn't have a bunch of dialogue in the actual fight. There's almost none there, which is perfect, until the very end. It got a bit weird at that point - there's just something about two men rolling around with their legs around each other saying "I love you." :P