Genre: Drama, Romance, Sport
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
In 2008 Darren Aronofsky helmed the movie that would bring Mickey Rourke’s career back to potential stardom. The Wrestler is a film about a former legend refusing to accept when his time is up, a man who would rather be respected for something he can’t do than be forgotten for something he can. It’s a powerful and moving story that simply uses wrestling as a way to highlight the obstacles that approach a man who has lived life from the inside out.
We open watching Randy ‘The Ram’ (Rourke) preparing for his next match up. In the title sequence we see that he was once a top wrestler, one of the ones we all gawp at on the television. Now twenty years later he’s performing in front of a few hundred in a sports arena as opposed to the millions in front of a TV camera. We witness him and his opponent going through the motions of their fight back stage and then we see the real thing. It may be fake, but boy it is still brutal. The wrestlers cut themselves with razors in order to gain affect and literally talk to each other so they know the next move. Even the poor referee gets in on the action. This is Randy’s world. This is where he’s appreciated.
We later see him meet the woman he desires in Cassidy (Tomei), a stripper at his local bar, who he sees as a sounding board for all of his wrestling experiences. He used to have it good and he wishes to one day get back there, but his crippled body now sees him struggling to pay rent and having to take on a part time job at a grocery store. His next fight pits him against the ‘crazy one’ who uses staple guns to hurt his opponent. This is a bloody fight and although premeditated they really are hurting each other. So much so that once the fight is over Randy suffers a heart attack. After being told he can never wrestle again Randy cancels his big comeback fight and settles for attempting to woo the affections of Cassidy and renew the friendship between him and his estranged daughter, He soon realises that without the ring, without the cheering, without the bloodshed he can’t cope with life and the temptation of one day fighting again is just far too much.
The first thing that deserves a mention is Mickey Rourke, who’s fantastic as ‘The Ram’. He isn’t playing the character, he is the character. It was rumoured that Nicolas Cage was first in line for the role and I’m so glad Rourke got it, as he’s the only one you can really see playing it. The long bleach blonde hair, the fake tan, the steroid induced body all work when it comes to Rourke’s style and look. When he isn’t kicking lumps out of fellow wrestlers, Rourke pulls us into his troubled personality with an emotional turn at the midpoint. His world is on the up and he’s enjoying his new found life, but when it all turns soul Rourke’s performance makes us feel his pain.
Tomei is also brilliant and very daring in a role that has her wearing nothing but a tiny g-string. She’s ‘The Ram’s’ sounding board; she’s the female version of him in a different world, but manages to handle it a whole lot better. Evan Rachel Wood is also affective as his daughter, but doesn’t have as much screen time as the others.
Aronofsky’s direction is top notch. This man has always delivered fantastic films (Requiem For A Dream being one of my favourites) and he delivers yet another one here. His decision to not show us Randy from the front until at least ten minutes in is a great one. At first we see a fighter, but when we finally see him we see that he’s a lonely old man. The choice to give us countless tracking shots also works. Many of them are following Randy as he walks through corridors, through the shop, through the woods, basically through life and it makes us experience his world. The best scene is when we hear the crowd as Randy prepares for his first day on the deli counter at the grocery store, only for the crowd cheers to disappear when he enters the deli instead of the ring. The scene has such meaning attached to it.
The story feels like that of a prisoner who struggles to live outside of a jail cell. This is the sort of man Randy is, but his prison is the ring. He doesn’t know how to be or how to act when it isn’t in spandex. This set up and story arc leads us to a powerful ending that really shows how a man can struggle through life when he’s tasted something he loves. It’s emotional, it’s powerful and it will make you understand the world of a onetime hero – Rourke and Aronofsky are to thank for that.
Don’t be put off by the fact it surrounds wrestling, there’s a much deeper story and his profession is simply the rope he leaps off to find himself in a troubled world. This is a must see.