Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.
Release Date: December 17, 2008 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Darren Aronofsky Actors: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens, Judah Friedlander
epressingly realistic (or vice versa depending on one’s level of pessimism), Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” nevertheless manages to summon a glimmer of hope in a merciless world that forsakes those who cannot adjust to change (not entirely unlike the disappearance of cowboys in end-of-an-era Westerns). At its center is a superb cast, elevating star Mickey Rourke’s powerhouse, comeback performance as the downtrodden athlete. Lighter than “Requiem for a Dream” and simpler than “The Fountain,” “The Wrestler” provides a grittily stark and oftentimes sadly humorous look into the life of a lamentable man and his tragic profession.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was once a world-renowned, professional wrestler of the ‘80s – but the spotlight has long since left him. Reduced to touring the independent circuits, where fame and fortune are all but nonexistent, he struggles to make ends meet, all while attempting to repair the damaged relationship with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), and courting a beautiful but aging dancer (Marisa Tomei) working at the strip club he frequents. But life proves far more difficult outside the ring than in it, causing him to feel the steady pull back towards the cheering crowds he once knew.
Randy doesn’t wrestle for money or for pride, but because it’s all he has left and, like many movie characters, his vocation is all he knows how to do right – or, at least, wholeheartedly. His inevitable return to the ring, against the warnings of doctors (“I’m a professional wrestler,” insists Randy, to whom the doctor replies, “That’s not a good idea”) and despite the slowly blossoming relationship with Tomei’s dancer Cassidy, isn’t about choice. He’s like Rocky when it comes to heart, but he has nothing to prove – not even to himself. He eventually becomes resigned about his obvious shortcomings, especially in relationships, realizing that there’s only one place he truly belongs. It’s never more apparent than in the fantasy-like conclusion and with the end credits song “One Trick Pony.”
The blood and pain is real, even if the fighting is staged. The Ram uses hidden razor blades to summon extra blood when needed, while the use of barbed wire and staple guns aren’t just props (and they say wrestling is fake). Randy’s pain is even more maddening in the real world, however, when he fails to fix his daughter’s alienation and withdrawal, copes with Cassidy’s rejection, and struggles to provide customer service at the low-level Acme grocery store where he works. His inability to prosper with interactions more grounded than the violent reverie of the ring is mirrored by Cassidy’s occupation as a stripper – a mask that she believes Randy won’t be able to see through. They’re all flawed antiheroes, swamped in desperation, stagnation, and dubious choices, but the poignant and entirely convincing performances make “The Wrestler” a powerful character study, even if Aronofsky’s infatuation with digression and emotional torment turns the film often agonizingly bleak.
– The Massie Twins