The Wrestler Directed by: Darren Aronofsky Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: R
Plot: Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) morphs into a fractured, middle-aged version of the world famous professional wrestler he was in the 80s. Desperately seeking to reinvigorate the high of his heyday, “The Ram” fumbles through a series of eye-opening experiences that may lead him off the beaten (literally) path for good.
Who’s It For? This is from the director of both Pi, and Requiem for a Dream, and let me be the first to say this film may not fit into a category anywhere similar to these brilliant predecessors. This is a fresh perspective on how being washed up doesn’t necessarily mean you’re completely hung out to dry.
Expectations: Rourke (a former boxer) has resurrected his career in much the same way John Travolta did in the early 90s. Though with Rourke, it's been his choice to tackle more eclectic roles like this that grip audiences far more than Phenomenon, Battlefield Earth, or Michael ever could. What you have here is a director with a proven track record, and a star whose light now burns brighter than it ever did. Expect the best from both of them.
Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson: This very well may be his “breakout” performance. Few actors could better portray hitting bottom, and exposing what this does to the human condition. Randy is a lightning bolt of a character whose thunder has all but fallen mute. The camera often follows Rourke, as he trudges forth with little to no respect for his well being, or whether or not anyone will ever give a damn. This is an actor who knows how to interpret shame, paralyzing anguish, and momentary glee without ever looking as though he were going through the motions. Score: 9
Marisa Tomei as Cassidy: As the only person Randy can open up to, Tomei plays a stripper trying to convince herself that this hulk with baggage is “just another customer.” Her role is presented as a crescendo of importance. As first, she keeps a great deal of distance between herself and “The Ram,” but as the film progresses, we see her heart slowly going out to the aimless failure of a man she can’t help but want to hold, despite her staunch resistance to give in. Though Rourke’s brilliance mostly takes the stage, Tomei makes you happy she’s there to provide, perhaps, his only hope for happiness. Score: 8
Evan Rachel Wood as Stephanie Robinson: Though we aren’t introduced to Randy’s love child until over halfway through the film, Wood provides the face to match the long-buried anguish he’s tried to forget. What’s odd about their relationship is that we’re supposed to believe, despite all the pain he’s caused her, two ratty jackets from a thrift-store are enough to warrant his reemergence in her life. When the situation (shockingly) begins to sour later on, you don’t believe her when she says it’s the last straw (again). The role just carries little weight, despite being advertised as the crux of the elder Robinson’s pain. Score: 5
Talking: There’s one telling moment that will floor you. It is when Randy and Cassidy (whose real name is “Pam” outside of the strip club) are bonding over their love of 80s arena rock when The Ram blames, “That Cobain pussy for coming along and ruining it all.” Rourke’s provided with a slew of similar one-liners that actually do a great job of masking the sorrow perpetually brewing below the surface of the film. Despite some drab father/daughter dialogue, it’s quirks like these that provide intermittent redemption. Score: 7
Sights & Sounds: You’ll love Aronofsky’s decision to open with the camera trailing Randy through his post-match routine, to his day job to ask for extra shifts, and back to his trailer park home. This humanizes the story with sharp effectiveness. His decision to only occasionally come back to this method, rather than sticking to it throughout, was great because it pulls off the presumably impossible; to keep a story of a decaying life brimming with a fresh sense of how to keep a sullen story riveting. Score: 8
Best Scene: When “The Ram” descends from the ring after an unnecessarily brutal match, he waivers like a feather before losing his lunch, grasping for his arm, and falling to the ground. It’s in this moment where we are witnessing more than a heart attack, but a full-fledged example of how very real death is. Though he doesn’t perish, this is where we learn his fate is nearing quickly. It’s a simple scene in which a bleeding man, quickly deteriorating before our eyes, is unable to get a hold of a situation he could have prevented by using common sense. It’s a perfect explanation of how lonely Randy has become as he’s rapidly approaching the twilight of a simply awful life.
Ending: Reminded me of how The Sopranos went out. You don’t actually see what happens, but you’re pretty sure you know what went down. The last frame captures Randy “The Ram” Robinson performing his signature shtick just as he’s realizing he may have messed up his life for the last time. Don’t get me wrong, you’re pissed this is how they leave it, but admit ending it any other way just wouldn’t feel as right.
Questions: Why wasn’t more time spent on Stephanie’s story? The scene in which Rourke fumbled through a terrifically written “I’m sorry,” holds little water because the little we see of Wood doesn’t justify this Hallmark moment. It seems gratuitous as a result. For all we know, Robinson has several love children. Yes, she says he’s lied in the past, which leads us to believe he used to be around a bit. The two treat each other like strangers, but we’re never sure how invested we have to be in their relationship. All it seems to do is slow the story, already moving at a snail's pace, albeit much more effectively.
Rewatchability: Yes. The jokes will be funnier because you won’t be spending as much time deciding whether or not to cry, duck, or quiver.
OVERALL Rourke nailed it. You can’t really explain it in any other way. He was simply superb as “The Ram,” and if you dispute this, we probably don’t agree on much, and probably shouldn’t ever meet. Acting performances like this don’t come along often, so make it a point to witness it. Great portrayals aren’t possible without carefully crafted scripts (Robert D. Siegel, writer of The Onion Movie wrote this film), or well-thought-out direction. Aronofsky manages to strip the glam of Randy’s glorious past down to the bone by revealing all the secrets professional wrestling would rather keep under wraps (the drug use, the formulated choreography, et al). This is a guy who’s too afraid of dying alone to stop trying to get someone to care about him before he croaks. The Wrestler is simply about what happens when great filmmaking, great acting, and a gripping story fuse together to make a lasting impact on its audience. See this movie, now.
Final Score: 8/10