Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)


The Wrestler begins with a pan of the glory days of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a professional wrestler, taking in all his big name games and triumphant wins via posters and ticket stubs. The Ram was such a big name that he was a topic of Nintendo games, action figures and focus of pay-per-view matches, and had a wealth of fans that worshipped. We’re now 20 years later, and he’s lost most of his swagger, pace, looks, not to mention several bones and ability to hear in one ear. He barely makes enough to cover his own living – his landlord’s locked him out of his trailer because he has missed a rent payment. The Ram certainly looks the part; Sporting an insane amount of steroids that have been pumped into him and bleached blonde hair and Mickey Rourke looks like how Frankenstein’s monster would have turned out had he not washed his hair for a month and donned a Cristiano Ronaldoesque mahogany tan.

Despite his startling looks, however, The Ram is a good guy at heart; enduring most of the stick life gives him with a weathered smile, mucking about with the kids that live near him and striking a friendship with Cassidy, an aging stripper. We watch as he partakes in some very staged but authentic-looking wrestling scenes – which are inter-cut with footage of the immediate treatment given to the wounds inflicted. One fight proves too much for his jaded heart, however, and The Ram suffers a heart attack. He recovers, but the doctor tells him a simple fact – he can’t continue wrestling if he intends to live. Taking this incident as sign, he quits from wrestling and tries to reconcile with his daughter Stephanie, whom he has not spoken to for a long time.

It’s a depressing, claustrophobic watch, but the performances make it worth it. As the stripper who’s finding it hard to vie with the younger and supposedly riper strippers around her, Marisa Tomei spends a good deal of her screen time stark naked, but still finds time to give one of the best performances of her career. Like Randy, it’s only a matter of time before her time is up, and there is one scene in which the punters do nothing but scorn at her and her age, so settles for the attentions of The Ram. In a few seconds, Tomei’s eyes convey the stages of rejection, hurt, realisation and acceptance that Cassidy goes through. Evan Rachel Wood plays the bitter estranged daughter Stephanie, and she hovers carefully just underneath the line of “getting annoying”, spending most of her time onscreen getting a bit shirty with Rourke.

However, if there’s you were asking for one reason to sit through two hours of depressing, gritty docudrama, then the answer is simple: Mickey Rourke. Rourke is sensational. With that wrinkled face and bittersweet smile, there are more than a few similarities between The Ram and the actor playing him. And in finding himself in The Ram, Mickey Rourke comes back from the dead, showing us that he’s still got it. We follow Randy in all his unattractive realism – hiding a blade in his tape to inflict wounds on himself, living in his car and grubby sex with whores in public bathrooms, and Mickey Rourke is completely at home in his ugly exploits. The scene where he takes his daughter to the seaside and explains and apologises for his poor parenting is particularly well done; you can hear, feel, sense Randy’s regret and sadness. Mickey Rourke’s dedication to the role is truly admirable – Rourke ate 5000 calories a day and trained for 6 months pre-filming so he was appropriately bulky – but his tears, facial expressions and body language speaks louder than any dieting could.

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Shot with a hand-held camera in many scenes, The Wrestler has the look of a docudrama, and we follow Randy in all his mundane activities. In one rather painful episode, one of the young lads living near him humours him by playing Nintendo with him; in the 2008, it was all about PS3 and Wii, but The Ram doesn’t fathom anything like that. We see some hesitant and not altogether successful attempts at flirting from Randy on Cassidy. We follow Randy as he works at the deli counter, chatting and bantering with his customers. The relationship between Randy and Cassidy is an interesting one. Friends for a while, there does seem to be a spark from both parties, hampered by Cassidy’s self-inflicted rule to never get involved with the customer. But of course, Randy isn’t just any old customer, and Cassidy realises this, perhaps too late.

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I’m not the biggest fan of Aronofsky personally (Requiem for a Dream was turgid, pretentious bollocks whose only redeeming quality was the tune that they play over and over again in X-Factor and Sky sports, The Fountain was lol-inducing and Pi made me hate Maths), but what has definitely helped The Wrestler as a piece of art is that it was not written by him, and, in having an accomplished writer script the film rather than doing it himself, Aronofsky has not gotten distracted by explosive visuals, and can focus on simply telling this humble little story. Aronofsky’s direction is mature, assured, and above all, unobtrusive. Robert D. Siegel pens the film, and eases gentle humour into an otherwise depressing story, successfully depicting both the macrocosm of the boxing world, as well as the microcosm of Randy’s life.

The finale was a true one-two punch. As The Ram explains to Cassidy (evoking echoes of The Shawshank Redemption’s Brooke), it’s the real world that inflicts his greatest wounds, not the boxing ring. “I only get hurt out there,” he explains, and one cannot help but feel their heart pang. The people in The Wrestler are by no means perfect, but they’re human, and every human deserves a chance. Every human craves to feel wanted and of use, and it is only in the boxing ring that Randy finds his validation. Pretty it is not, but Darren Aranofsky’s The Wrestler is worth the watch; is a fine character study about what it means to be a wrestler, what it means to feel wanted, what it means to be a man.

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9 comments:

Farzan said...

Good post, Im going to try to catch film this week. I heard its a really great movie.

anahita said...

I think that the fact a jaded actor like Rourke can beat out Sean Penn, Leonardo Di Caprio and a bunch of other talents must mean he is pretty amazing in this film. either that or the awards just got it wrong (wouldn't be the first time). Probs the highlight of this for me would be marisa tomei who(m?) I just love xxx

Anonymous said...

Where do you get your screencaps?

Emma said...

I take them myself! :D

Besty said...

Great review Emmabung. I saw this on Sunday and thought it brilliant film. It's not my favourite from Aronofsky, or his most personal, but I think it's his most well-rounded.

A note about Rourke's performance - it's a remarkable mixture of both acting and "becoming" The Ram. There were two scenes that I thought got this perfectly - the look he gives the empty space where Pam was standing in his final wrestling scene, and the scene at the deli counter when that woman kept saying "less" and "more", and another customer couldn't remember his name. You could see how much it hurt and annoyed him, just from the way he was breathing.

vicki said...

awesome review :D

i saw this film last week, and i thought it was good but there were certain aspects of it that really made me not like the film.
I really didnt like how they showed so much of the whole stripping and naked shit stuff...it got to a stage where it was like 'why are they showing us this? what does it have to do with the story?'

also..im not into gore...so some of the scenes made me cringe and close my eyes.

but apart from those aspects...pretty good film.
i think i need to toughen up and then watch the film again to enjoy all of the film.

Farzan said...

Just saw the film and its great. I gave it a B+ in my review.

free movies said...

The authenticity is the hallmark of this movie combined with vivid cinematography and set design. An amazing career-best performance from Mickey Rourke and outstanding work by Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood, the film is very powerful and emotional.

generic viagra said...

I remenber when I was young and I used to go to the wrestling in big stadium with my father, so I think that this movie is so great , I have watched two times.