Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Wrestler

The dilemma posed in Darren Aronofsky's latest film The Wrestler is an interesting one. We are introduced to Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), an aging professional wrestler who still performs in old VFW halls and the like, working part-time at a local supermarket in New Jersey, barely living hand-to-mouth. We see his aches and pains, and signs of age very clearly. But he does what he needs to do to do what he does, including using steroids. He hangs out at a local strip joint and is friendly with a stripper known as Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). He lives in the past and is generally happy despite his squalid conditions.....until he suffers a heart attack after a particularly brutal match and is told that he needs to make some changes. Kicking the steroids, fine. But when told that wrestling was "not a good idea", he looks at the cardiologist like he was the stupidest man on the planet. "But Doc......I'm a professional wrestler." Randy attempts to make a go of a "straight" life, and to repair his damaged relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). But can he, or more importantly, does he even want to?
The story of The Wrestler, written by former The Onion Editor-In-Chief(!) Robert Siegel showcases some interesting parallels and paradoxes. The squalor of Randy's life as a professional wrestler, and the satisfaction he gets from it. The violence the wrestlers in the film inflict upon each other in the ring, and the brotherhood they have outside of it. The parallels between Randy and Cassidy, as aging practicioners of "trades" that value flesh and youth above all. The material here is nowhere near as harsh as Aronofsky's signature Requiem For A dream, but it is visceral, and will stay with you. I liked the scene where Randy is at a small fan convention signing, and he looks around the room, regarding some fellow elder statesmen of the sport and the price they falling asleep, one paralyzed from the waste down with a catheter, etc.
But as solid as the story is, this is a performance driven film. Mickey Rourke, enjoying a major comeback as of late, has never been better. He offers a completely believeable, likeable Randy, and makes sure we feel every thumbtack in his back during an "extreme" match, the chest pain he experiences when attempts to jog shortly after his bypass, and the hopelessness when he makes a mistake with somebody....for the last time. He carries this film with ease. If there is any justice in this world, he will receive his Best Actor Oscar next weekend. Evan Rachel Wood also acquits herself nicely as Randy's exasperated, estranged daughter. Some of the scenes she shares with Rourke are much harder to watch than any gore or violence Aronofsky could portray.
While The Wrestler doesn't break much new ground, it is a good story that is well told, and another fine credit for Darren Aronofsky, who is surely a future legend as a director. I give The Wrestler a 16 out of 22 on the 22 scale.


Moshe Reuveni said...

"another fine credit for Darren Aronofsky, who is surely a future legend as a director" -
Have you seen The Fountain?

Your Racist Friend said...

I feel so unmotivated to see The Fountain. I don't know why, it just doesn't look all that compelling to me.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Well, your blog gave it a favorable review; in my opinion, it was a rather hazy film (so hazy it should have never gone out in the first place). Hence my previous comment.

Your Racist Friend said...

Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler were all great. Even Kurosawa had less-than-stellar flicks from time to time.

Dr. Worm said...

No, The Fountain was good. It was abstract, yes, but I don't know if I'd call it hazy. I thought it got across a very poignant, universal message in a rather unique way.

I actually haven't seen the other three films YRF mentioned, but I'm willing to toss Aronofsky on the future legend pile on reputation alone.