The reason I was thinking that this film was going to deliver a dual Rocky story is that the trailer had told us most of the story right up to what looked to be the ultimate sequence of the film, and for both brothers it seemed like the Rocky story. One was the surprising, older, underdog brother who no one believed could do it, the other was a war hero who ignored all the glory and the fame and just wanted to win for a noble cause.
There were some strong pointers to the film being reminiscent of the Rocky stories, for both brothers, each reflecting a different one from the franchise. There was also a strong danger that it could turn into a bucket of cheese and go all Hollywood. So how did it go?
I actually found that plot pretty difficult to write and in the end I just gave in. It's hard to get across how much this isn't about just fighting; this isn't just a Rocky story, although to be fair to the Rocky films some of them are a lot more than just the underdog rising to the top. Warrior may have some amazing fighting sequences that do get the heart racing but there's a strong emotional core at the centre of the story that plays out much better than a lot of other similar films, and that's what makes Warrior so much better.
From the beginning of the film it builds the characters creating strong motivations for what they are doing and giving them a powerful direction and drive. It sparks the troubled and combative relationships between each of the brothers and their father and keeps returning to it as the film draws them closer and closer together.
It's like a storm you can feel coming, for the story is unashamedly pointing to it throughout and that's something that we saw from the trailer. We know that as the brothers grow nearer to this moment the tension is going to rise and rise until they collide, and that's exactly what happens.
I felt myself getting drawn into the characters and the story, and as these moments began to draw nearer and became more tangible my nerves grew and during fights as well as some character confrontations I could feel myself on edge, wringing my hands tighter during some scenes and really feeling the character tension come through the screen, and that kept building.
Part of me does wish that the trailer hadn't shown us so much, not because it ruined any surprises, but because I think it would have been good to have arrived at the final act of the film not knowing so firmly that it was going to come to the place that it did. Mind you, following the story I don't think anyone was really in much doubt about where it was going to end up, the question was how it was going to get there and what it would deliver after that point.
It's what the trailer doesn't tell us that that provides the strength in the film. While the feeling is of two different Rocky stories combined, one for each of the brothers, and the story builds to the fight competition and the clash of the brothers, you do become drawn to the characters, caught up in their emotional stories and the parts we already know take on a deeper and more emotional strength, and that really does lend to the drama of the rest of the film, even when we hit the expected beats of the Rocky stories or the fights themselves this extra added weight has us captured.
What's more surprising is what happens when you think you know the story is going to play out a certain way, I found myself totally uncertain and couldn't guess which way the story was going to go, even when I felt I knew the Hollywood path I still could not be sure, and I really appreciated the film for that. A number of times it does break with convention and we get a nice surprise keeping us guessing and involved.
Even when the fighting competition ramps up it doesn't take over the story and the film still plays to the emotional strength that it has spent so much time building upon. It doesn't just build up the emotional side to deliver the fighting, that remains to the very end.
That emotional story is not just the combative relationships between the fathers and sons, nor that these relationships are nigh on ruined in all directions with just the father looking to find some kind of way back into their lives for forgiveness, but the way these characters play out with each other and deliver some different turns than you might expect, a few big surprises too.
It's here that I have to speak about the performances, and here are where there are more surprises to be had. The big one is not that Tom Hardy is the scene crunching lead, neither is it Joel Edgerton, it's that it's Nick Nolte and his fantastic emotive performance which in one scene looks set to grab attention and comments of supporting actor nominations, and for once I can believe those calls.
As Nolte's father is standing outside the house of Edgerton's son he gives an amazing performance that is key to getting you committed to the father and involved in the stories of the family. I'm surprised to say he steals the show, and it's this scene that really did it for me where he plays the character with subtlety and the emotion of the character is palatable.
That's not to say that Edgerton or Hardy don't deliver strong performances, they do, but when we see Nolte playing the father pleading with his son on the doorstep of his house, or when he falls apart and Hardy plays one of the highlights of his character, where his barriers break down and he turns to help his father as his father should have helped him, these are the most powerful and stirring moments of the film and really do get to you.
It's these moments, and the actors, that make this film giving superb performances throughout including Jennifer Morrison. They are natural and utterly convincing performances that bolster the, and I know I'm going on about it, the emotional core of the film and make it so much more than you'd expect from the film.
Okay, I'm going to get to the fighting now, after all that's where we end up in the film and I think I've made the point that the film isn't all about fighting. When it does get there though it can be pretty frantic and at times rather brutal.
The fight sequences are well filmed, although there are a good portion of them that you can't really make out, with this film it actually lends to the frantic feel and the camera does pull back out to show us some blisteringly painful looking moves, moves that made the audience whimper and wince.
It wasn't just the fighting that gained audience feedback, there were a number of humorous moments in the film that got the audience going, myself included. This is something I usually hate and I have no problem staying quiet throughout a film, however there were a few times I just couldn't. Not just with the fighting, but with the humour in the film and I caught myself appreciatively saying "Ha!" out loud at one point without realising I was doing it, and that's a sign of how much I was caught up in the film.
It's not all great though. Some of the threads are rather twee and expected, and come the end you will be wondering if it played out the right way. I was torn between the two winning and the two of us who had gone to see the screening were both going different directions with the ending.
You'll find the same problem too, being torn between the two brothers and backing both of them, not sure which way to turn and which should win. It kept me guessing and I'm sure it will do the same for you.
Another issue I had was with the portrayal of the soldier's story. This seemed overly convoluted, making him a reluctant war hero was where it should have stayed but the hidden story that flips his character right around then seems to put the scriptwriters in a dead end where they have to create another aspect of the story to vindicate him again, something that feels so forced it's painful.
Ultimately there are two questions, one is which brother and the other is about whether the story plays out the right way. I was slightly annoyed with the ending, feeling a little short changed and with the story seemingly just dropping us off. However with things left unexplored the way they were it could have been a Hollywood ending avoided, even if there were a number of threads left hanging.
Warrior is a step above the fight film you might expect and provides more emotional weight to the story than even two Rocky films pulled together. It's a valid comment about the film, the two brothers stories can be isolated and pulled out and can be compared to two of the Rocky films, but not to do them an injustice, Warrior has more depth and emotional involvement.
Nick Nolte delivers a great performance and Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are excellent as the brothers with a strong performance from post-House Jennifer Morrison. Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman deliver a strong script that creates strong characters in realistic situations connecting emotionally with the audience before turning to the fight side of the story but without abandoning the aspects that will keep the audience connected.
O'Connor has filmed Warrior well, I never felt that the style overtook the film as it was so important to remain emotionally involved and for it not to become over stylised. There is one scene where it looks like he had some fun, building the training section using action from the main characters on multiple screens, but it never overtakes the story and keeps a very realistic tone.
It's a strong film that will capture you and leave you guessing to the final round, and even then you'll still find plenty to confuse yourself over, even if you are wondering if the end was the right way to play it, you'll have enjoyed the performances and the journey of the characters.