Written by Robert D. Siegel
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Running Time: 1:41
for violence, sexuality/nudity,
language and some drug use.
The Wrestler was truly all about the triumphant return of Mickey Rourke to the spotlight with a tour-de-force performance that was among the best of the decade.
Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is a beat up old wrestler who, after years of success is left living alone in a trailer park. Still a hero to the young kids in the area, The Ram is estranged from his daughter Stephanie who wants nothing to do with him. Randy has a budding relationship with a stripper named Cassidy but she's not sure she should be involved with a customer. And the only thing Randy has in his life is wrestling. His 'day' job is working at a grocery store but his love is in the ring. Even at an advanced age he's willing to go and get himself beaten to a pulp for the roar of the crowd. But his heart isn't as strong as it once was and one more bad beat could mean his death.
There are many things to love about The Wrestler but the bottom line is, without the career reviving performance of Mickey Rourke there is no film. I'm very glad the producers finally agreed to make the film with Rourke rather than another rumored star, Nicolas Cage. The parallels between Randy and Rourke are too obvious for me to name here and that just added another layer to his performance. I saw the movie far after the accolades started raining down on him and I was still blown away. Personally, I think he was robbed of an Oscar this year, just like Sean Penn was robbed back in 1995 when he lost to Nicolas Cage. Rourke is the heart and soul of this film and you can't help but like him. First off let it be known that I've been a wrestling fan a couple of times in my life. Once during the Hulk Hogan era and again during the Stone Cold/Rock era. I've watched as wrestlers hang on to their careers long after they should have retired. You wonder why they would bother putting themselves through the torture night after night for little pay and little reward. But The Wrestler takes you inside and shows you why. It's because it's all they know. Some guys manage to make it out of the industry and go on to successful careers elsewhere, but a large number of them continue to wrestle into their twilight years. Randy loves the roar of the crowd and the high he gets from climbing to the top ropes and crashing down on his opponent. And if he has to be cut and beat and bleed to accomplish that, then so be it.
The best part of the movie is how unapologetic it is. There is and can never be a happy ending to The Ram's story. He tries desperately to get back into Stephanie's life but no matter how many chances she gives him, no matter how hard he tries, he can never be the father she deserves. Randy desperately wants someone to love him and if it isn't his daughter then maybe he can find love in the arms of a stripper. Except her job is to have people like her. Yes, she starts to feel something for Randy but in her heart she knows it can never work out. The only love Randy gets is from wrestling. The younger guys all look up to the former champ and idolize him. The fans still chant his name in the packed (albeit small) arenas. And so even though it may kill him, he continues to fight. This movie could have easily gone the sympathetic route and redeemed Randy and had a happy ending, but thankfully it didn't.
Visually, there are few directors better than Darren Aronofsky The Fountain was kind of a mess of a movie but it's the only movie I've ever wanted to buy strictly because of the visuals. With The Wrestler, Aronofsky steps back from the prettiness and goes gritty and real with a lot of handheld camera work. You feel like you're a part of the movie, almost in documentary style, just with no talking to the camera. We're the fly on the wall watching Randy try and pull his life together and falling apart at every turn. It's a shame this movie didn't get more notoriety than it did because beyond the obvious standout performances, it was a very well made film. The screenplay was tremendous by keeping the movie very real and not allowing it to become a Disney-esque redemption story. And the direction was superb. If this movie had been about a mainstream sport like baseball or basketball, it would have definitely gone further but let's face it, a movie about wrestling is going to be a hard sell. The fight sequences were not for the squeamish as there was a lot of blood and barbarianism, especially in one particular match. If you're a fan of wrestling it won't be anything you haven't seen before, but for mainstream audiences it could be hard to take. And that's a shame because the blood and mayhem wasn't thrown in for shock value, it was there to show the lengths Randy would go through to get that high he needed to survive.
The DVD didn't come with many extras. There was a 45 minute making of documentary that was definitely worth watching, and then a Bruce Springsteen music video. A director's commentary would have been very worthwhile here, and maybe a history of wrestling since that might have helped newcomers to the industry understand it a little more. The documentary went into it a little bit but a more in depth story would have helped. In fact, were they able to strike a deal to have Beyond the Mat, the ultimate wrestling documentary, on The Wrestler DVD, that would have been fantastic. As it is, I'd rush out and buy both of them if you're interested.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I loved The Wrestler and thought it was one of the top films of 2008. Mickey Rourke's performance will stand the test of time and there is no question in my mind he got robbed at the Oscars. This is a must-have DVD.
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