Fox Searchlight Pictures
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Produced by Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin
Written by Robert D. Siegel
Separately Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky have given me many hours of cinematic pleasure. Mickey Rourke starred in what to me is one of the scariest movies ever made “Angel Heart” which is a damn good mixture of the private eye and horror genres. I even liked “Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man””Year Of The Dragon” and “Heaven’s Gate” “Johnny Handsome” is one of the best crime movies of the 80’s but nobody went to see it except me, I guess.
Darren Aronofsky made a movie that ruined my sleep for two nights in a row. Only one other movie has ever been able to do that. Despite the advice of my friend Alex Cook, I watched “Requiem For A Dream” at night and paid for it. But it was worth it as Darren Aronofsky has such an extraordinary visual language in that movie. And any director who can get an Academy Award-level performance out of Marlon Wayans is truly a director with talent. “Pi” and “The Fountain” are movies that further illustrate Darren Aronofsky’s intelligence and unwillingness to make conventional movies. So when I heard that these two were making a movie together I naturally expected an experience that would blow me away. Well, THE WRESTLER didn’t blow me away. Not that it’s a bad movie. Far from it. It’s an excellent piece of work. I guess I just let myself be carried away by the hype following the movie’s release and had my expectations raised to an unreasonable level.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson was once at the top of the professional wrestling mountain, enjoying a success equal to that of Randy “Macho Man” Savage or Rowdy Roddy Piper. But he’s stayed in the game far too long and twenty years after his prime he’s working in a ‘Costco’ like warehouse during the week and wrestling in high school gymnasiums during the weekends. He’s always behind on the rent. He’s keeping his battered body together with painkillers, ice packs, steroids and rigorous workouts. A promoter approaches Randy with an offer to set Randy up with a rematch with his arch nemesis from back in the day: The Ayatollah. Their first bout years ago sold out Madison Square Garden. It’s a high-profile match and Randy naturally hopes this could lead to a comeback. These are hopes and dreams he shares with Pam (Marisa Tomei) who works at a strip club using the name Cassidy. She’s got her own problems. She’s just a bit older than the rest of the girls in the club but the customers can tell and they pass her by to go for the younger girls.
Randy’s situation is complicated by an unexpected health crisis that occurs after a particularly grueling and brutal hardcore match that puts what little wrestling career and the comeback rematch in jeopardy. He makes an attempt to give up wrestling and adjust to a normal life, going so far as to try and reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) who hates him with a white hot passion. Randy’s frustrations at not being able to wrestle combined with his inability to deal with everyday life continue to grow until he’s forced to make a decision that just won’t change his life forever but might also end it.
THE WRESTLER has been getting extraordinary praise and for good reason as it’s an excellent movie with remarkable acting. But I expected nothing less from Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky. From some of the reviews I’ve read I thought these guys had re-invented movies. What they’ve done is make the same type of movie Hollywood used to make all the time in the 1950’s, 60’s and well into the 70’s: The Character Study. And that’s what this movie is. We spend a crucial few days walking around with this man, observing how he spends his days and nights. And we get an insight into this lower tier of the wrestling world. The Ram and his fellow wrestlers were once gods of the ring. But now they hawk T-shirts and reminisce about their glory days.
Don’t get me wrong. I liked THE WRESTLER a lot. Hey, it’s got Mickey Rourke and as far as I’m concerned, he can do no wrong. However, I have to say that I liked his performances better in “Sin City” and “Domino” than in this one. And any movie that gives us so many gratuitous nude shots of Marisa Tomei is okay by me. She’s very good in this one and the scenes between her and Mickey Rourke have real emotion behind them. Not so the scenes between Mickey Rourke and Evan Rachel Wood. Not once was I convinced they were father and daughter and her hysterics really got on my last nerve. But it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the rest of the movie. If you’re a wrestling fan or a Mickey Rourke fan you should check out THE WRESTLER. It’s not a feel good date movie, that’s for certain. But it is a wonderful insight into a wounded life told with intelligence and compassion