We all know how great Mickey Rourke was in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, but what about the film itself? As both a wrestling and an Aronofsky fan, I remember anxiously awaiting The Wrestler’s release, and when I saw it I was not disappointed. To be frank, I was very impressed. Rourke deserves all the praise he has received and then some, and Aronofsky showed his maturation and versatility as a director.
The story in this film is pretty straightforward and, if you’re a wrestling fan, one that’s all too familiar. Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a professional wrestler well past his prime. In the 80s, The Ram was on top of the wrestling world, but the new millenium hasn’t been so easy on the weathered, destitute former champ. The Ram still wrestles, but instead of body slamming opponents at Madison Square Garden, he’s stuck performing in small local venues for scraps of cash. After an especially brutal hardcore match (which may be the coolest scene in the movie), The Ram suffers a heart attack, and his doctor warns him that wrestling again could kill him.
The hype surrounding Rourke’s performance is warranted. He makes us believe that The Ram is constantly in tremendous pain, both physical and mental. Every movement The Ram makes, we know that he’s aching, and the whole time we see that he’s suffering internally, too. Rourke doesn’t need dialogue to covey The Ram’s pain; his grunting and grimacing tell us all we need to know. Mickey Rourke is a lock for a Best Actor nomination, and if you’ve seen this movie, you know that’s not a very bold prediction. The Ram is the perfect representation of old, battered wrestlers like Jake “The Snake” Roberts and a constant reminder that for many career wrestlers, the pain inside is far worse than the physical pain.
Aronofsky clearly did his homework for this movie. He gives the audience a look at the less-than-glamorous world of professional wrestling and the baggage that comes along with it. The Ram isn’t the only wrestler with a broken-down body and psyche, and the use of pain killers, spray-on tanner, and steroids in professional wrestling is par for the course. Aronosky also gives us an inside look at some of the tricks of the sport, and the script is peppered with industry-specific terms, giving the wrestling matches an authentic feel. Many of the shots in The Wrestler are taken from behind The Ram, following him around to different places (such as the wrestling ring or the deli counter), a technique that helps put the audience in The Ram’s shoes and better understand his melancholy life. Aronofsky employs the same technique during a sequence with Marisa Tomei (who plays the stripper Cassidy/Pam), and it’s just as effective.
Tomei is also fantastic in this movie and I’ve got to say, she looks amazing for her age. Her character, Cassidy, plays as a converse of The Ram: Cassidy insists that the “real” her is Pam, a single mom, not a stripper, while The Ram insists on being called Randy (and not his real name, Robin) and is unable and ultimately unwilling to become anything other than a wrestler. In a shocking scene in a deli, The Ram defiantly slices his finger in the meat-cutting machine, destroying any concept of Robin and returning to the only thing he knows how to do: wrestle. The final scene of the movie – which is very Sopranos-finale-esque – is especially moving, as the flawed Ram abandons a potential yet unlikely love for the only comfort he’s ever known.
I wouldn’t have expected the director of Requiem For a Dream and The Fountain to make a heartbreaking character film, but that’s precisely what Aronofsky has done. Nevertheless, it’s Mickey Rourke who carries this movie from beginning to end.
Five out of five stars. I don’t have a single complaint about this movie. Even the soundtrack was fitting.
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