Mickey Rourke gives a tour de force in one of the year’s most surprising films.
Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Notable Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
The Wrestler is a no brainer that if you’re a wrestling fan, and the festival buzz around it has been growing. Wrestling fans rejoice: this is a movie for you and for your loved ones who don’t quite share your fascination with the sport.
Back in the 80’s, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was on top of the world. He was a hugely popular and successful professional wrestler, comparable with the popularity of real life professional wrestling legend Hulk Hogan. The Wrestler picks up in present day, 20 years after Randy’s glory days, and he’s working the independent circuit on the weekends while working at a local grocery store during the day. Randy doesn’t have millions of dollars saved, doesn’t drive a luxury car or live in a mansion in Malibu. He lives in a trailer (behind on his rent) and it’s unclear if he owns a car. He still bleaches his hair blonde, still regularly bakes his aging skin at a local tanning salon, trying to keep up his appearance. Things change virtually overnight for him, however, as his years of abusing his body catch up to him with near fatal consequences.
Passing out after a match, Randy wakes up in the hospital. He’s had a heart attack and is told that he should not wrestle again. Randy tries to live like a normal guy with his once glamorous job seemingly behind him. He gets a full time job at the grocery store in the deli department and he tries to pursue a stripper at a local club named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). He also attempts to re-establish connection with his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
The film follows the life of Randy “The Ram” in the downside of his life. We get to see him in two parts. The first half of the movie is Randy the aging wrestler, still doing what he loves despite a shrinking audience and paycheck. The latter half of the film is his retirement, trying to make sense of what his life has become and trying to continue living. There are no bells or whistles here. This movie just shows the man as he is. Because of this, the humanity of the character is able to shine through thanks to the brilliant performance by Rourke. Rourke’s performance has been garnering Oscar buzz for the past few months now and it’s not by any mistake. This is a tour de force performance, and will be the one to beat this Oscar season. The subtleties and the humor of the character are what really bring it to life.
Some of the best scenes are when Randy is having a good time out of the ring. Early on in the movie, the locker room scenes are very funny and very interesting. The wrestlers are all coordinating the moves they will be using in their fights that night; who’s going to come at who from what direction. Then in another scene, they’re all talking in the locker room about what to take to enhance their skills. These candid behind the scenes moments are made even more poignant because all of the extras are real life professional wrestlers. It’s a far cry from the glamorized behind the scenes stuff that’s shown on television. The scenes of Randy at work in the deli are hilarious. These come later in the movie, and at this point, it’s really fun to see him having a good time.
Since the film really revolves around Randy “the Ram”, the supporting actors aren’t really in the movie too much. Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy, the stripper that Randy falls for. She’s sweet, but very guarded and very obviously carries emotional baggage that possibly led her to the job of being a stripper. It’s a common bond they find with one another. They both have very rough careers, physically and emotionally. They play off each other very well.
Another of my favorite scenes is their “date” together. They have a very complex chemistry that is not quite mutual attraction, but is very much mutual respect. Randy’s daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) has similar emotional issues. Randy left her and her mother when she was very young, so she despises her father for it. He hasn’t made much of an effort throughout her life to make contact with her either. When he shows up out of the blue, she is very emotionally confused and isn’t quite sure if she wants to let him back in to her life. One of the more touching moments in the film is his conversation with her while they’re on their “date” together.
Director Darren Aronofsky has done something different here, as he always does with his films. The film is shot mainly in the “shaky cam” style similar to what we saw in Cloverfield or Diary of the Dead earlier this year. Only this time it’s done well. It feels more like a documentary at times and the format really helps establish the gritty behind the scenes feel. Aronofsky’s films are also known for their brilliant scores. The music in this is not typical Aronofsky, as instead of sweeping instrumentals we get 80’s rock songs peppered in throughout the movie to add to the nostalgia that Randy feels. Also, a new original song by Bruce Springsteen plays over the end credits. The song is simply titled “the Wrestler” and is a slow but powerful acoustic song. It’s beautiful.
The Wrestler really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to leave the theater feeling such an emotional connection to a wrestler. I’ve always seen the sport as a joke. It’s not real, after all, is it? Now I have a new appreciation for it and for the men and women who wrestle. If it weren’t for Mickey Rourke and the brave performance he’s given, I wouldn’t be recommending this movie so wholeheartedly. No one could have pulled off this role the way he has. The Wrestler is not to be missed.