Monday 19 January 2009

Review: The Wrestler

Year: 2008
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Robert D Siegel
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Plot Summary

When I came out of The Wrestler first considered it to be about the films lead, Mickey Rourke, An actor whose taken more than a few hard knocks both professionally and personally. A man who still believes that his best work is still ahead of him. I reconsidered once more...This is a film about wrestling. Every detail is right on the head. If Raging Bull is the boxers movie, then this must be the Raging Bull of pro wrestling.

My friends and is those things and then some.

Aronofsky's film is a multi layered drama with some of the most grounded, well drawn out performances I've seen in a long time. While Rourke falls this role with ease and plays it with extraordinary aplomb. He is backed up by two affecting female roles which could have easily have appeared as tired and cliched if it were not for the performances of the actresses and the way they are written. Those who know their wrestlers (I myself am a closest fan) will smile slyly in agreement to the nods towards the blading, the drugs, the guest signing. Some who couldn't care less about the "sport" may be surprised by what they see. I myself was astonished by the amount of detail the filmmakers went into. The matches are predetermined yes but the performers feel every bump, every bruise and of course every injury.

The film delves into the ins and out of wrestling so well it can feel like your behind the scenes at an independent live event. However, more importantly, the film goes into the lives of these people after the bright lights have died down. Not everyone can be the star, and even those who reach the summit may have limited staying power. The Wrestler reminds us that for every Mick Foley, there's thousands of Jake "The Snake" Robert types each with their own personal demons that eat at their insides.

Aronofsky captures so many home truths in his fiction it's scary. While Randy "The Ram" is fictional character, elements of his life are clearly taken from many true story elements. Throughout the film I was constantly reminded of Eddie Guerrero, Crash Holly and so many others. The health problems due to substance abuse, the strains on substantial family relationships, it's all captured so accurately. It's been noted that Vince McMahon (Owner of WWE) hates the movie while many of the actual wrestlers have praised it. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone whose observed some of the more shadier business practices of the WWE corporation.

The amount of detail is intricate and both Director Aronofsky and writer Siegel balance this with such complicated (note not complex) character infused with such a delicate warmth at times it's hard to take. It seems so easy to befriend Randy (everyone knows his name) but it's incredibly hard to help him. Even if you advise him...what makes you think he'll take it? It's not just the desire to be a hero that makes Randy crave the ring but the mere fact that the bruises heal after the fight, the bumps of reality scar indefinitely. The ring is his true home and the only place he's felt comfortable.

Aronofsky was going to originally cast Nicolas Cage in the role of Randy. Thank god he didn't. Cage is a competent enough actor (depending on the film) but Rourke is a revelation. To say he understands the material is more than an's a god damn insult. Rourke is in sublime form here. With Rourke in the role the film almost becomes a product of metafiction, or a lifework of sorts. Every wince, every gravelled utterance, every pained smile seems to carry added weight. Some have said that it seems that every aspect of Rourke's life has been leading up to this part and I'm in kind to argee with them. I hope he wins the Oscar.

Rourke is joined by Marisa Tomei whose "tart with a heart" role is kept fresh with a very assured performance. Evan Rachel Wood seems to be channeling her character from Thirteen and show what would happen if she flew right after that movie finished (this is a good thing as her performances both in Thirteen and this are solid one).

I said the film was about much more than its actor and it's detailed look about it's Sport. It's also about a man who revels in his past as he cannot deal with the future fast approaching. An amusing scene involves Ram playing an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System circa 1984) with a neighborhood child whose more interested about talking about Call of Duty 4. Another scene involves a talk about 80's rock and roll being invaded by 90's grunge and shoegaze. Ram talks about these things because it reminds him of a more optimistic time. One that probably went to fast for him. If time is our biggest foe then Randy has found a time machine: The Ring.

Aronofsky's drama is not original in terms of story or narrative, but it's incredibly rich film experience. The amount of insight it achieves about the sport and the detail placed on the character is nothing short of wonderful. Rourke believes his best work is still to come. I believe it won't get any better than this.