Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Wrestler (2008) Review

The Wrestler
Aronofsky + Rourke= Greatness

I’m just going to get this over with right now. I admit I have never seen any of Mickey Rourke’s classic movies from the 80’s before The Wrestler. My first taste of his acting was in Sin City where he affectionately played the bruiser Marv, and I started to take notice after that. Three years had passed and Rourke was mostly quiet, appearing in small supporting roles in smaller films. But those three years were not in vain, however, as he has now made his true comeback with Wrestler as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. When I learned that the director of this would be Darren Aronofsky of Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain fame, I knew we had a winner on our hands.

Plot Synopsis: Randy Robinson, a professional wrestler 20 years past his prime, has now found himself playing in high school gyms and small “underground” nightclubs for the most diehard of fans. But this clinging to the glory days has impacted his life, as he now has to live in a trailer park where he gets locked out from not paying the rent from time to time. Sometimes he stops at the local joint Cheeks where he’s friendly with a stripper Cassidy, who like him has seen better days. After suffering a heart attack after a match, Randy has to try and find other ways to make it through life without wrestling and attempts to try to reconcile with his estranged daughter Stephanie.


If you're one of those people that gets really squeamish from seeing blood and self mutilation, then I’m going to tell you flat out that the first 20 minutes will make you leave the theater. The second match in the film is a “hardcore” match where the fighters use sharp weapons including barbwire and staple guns and it is not a pretty sight to say the least. Granted, after that nothing that gruesome ever reappears but it still left quite an impression throughout the remaining runtime. By shooting in a gritty documentary style and avoiding many of the visual flourishes from his previous films, Aronofsky not only enhances the violence going on in the ring but also Robert Siegel’s script. By writing about the independent circuits of wrestling rather than the more glamorous and mainstream runs like the WWE, Siegel keeps the story small scale so that it doesn’t overpower the drama going on in Robinson’s life or make it seem emotionally hollow. The New Jersey locations also help and have a very worn out, working class like look to them that fits with the proceedings and makes everything look lived in.


Now I don’t know how good Mickey Rourke was in the olden days (although I’ve heard he was a pretty good actor), but I will tell you this, he is amazing in The Wrestler. He’s a bruiser, but a surprisingly human bruiser who just loves the sport of wrestling. Rather than turning his life around like most characters would after such a disability, Robinson tries to fit in to public life but eventually realizes that wrestling is his life and he will do anything to keep doing it. When he finally breaks out in tears in front of Stephanie at one point, we feel his sorrow too because he loves both her and wrestling, but can’t handle them together. Evan Rachel Wood handles Stephanie admirably without turning her into a whiny brat whose anger is unjustified, because well, it is. She slowly begins to warm up to Randy as he spends time with her, but when he misses a dinner with her she realizes he’s still the same person. Marisa Tomei well plays Cassidy similar to Robinson, considering their characters face the same challenges. In one scene, we see her walking around her club looking for some business, but none of the men take interest in her. We can certainly see why she and Randy are such good friends because both of them can empathize with each other’s issues of age and expendability.

When I saw a Q & A with writer Siegel, producer Scott Franklin, and critic Peter Travers, the three men noted the similarity between Randy Robinson’s life and Mickey Rourke’s own personal life. Similar to Randy, Rourke has found the path to making a comeback to the profession he was once considered so good at. And thank God for that.


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