Stories that delved into the inner human spirit and tales about redemption have been beloved by critics since anyone can remember. Small wonder, since films that exhibit pure humanity can undoubtedly touch the hearts of audiences--it is a premise that is both fascinating and quite easy to relate to. Inspired by the documentary "Beyond the Mat", director Darren Aronofsky's "The WRESTLER" is a film with a lot of things to say, and may well be Mickey Rourke's best performance; this role may indeed serve as his own redemption as his own character's--Randy the "Ram".
Randy (Mickey Rourke) is an aging, washed out wrestler whose days of glory and fame are over. Now wrestling in a small circuit that is mostly staged in small or large auditoriums, Randy is having some difficulties keeping up with the younger talent. To keep up, he uses an abundance of pain killers and strength enhancers. One day, after performing in a "hardcore match", Randy suffers a heart attack which causes him to undergo a bypass surgery and ends his weekend wrestling career. Randy is now all alone, and needs to make a living. Afraid of being alone, he befriends a beautiful stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and tries to rekindle his relationship with his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Working in a small supermarket, Randy tries to make ends meet. However, it is difficult for a man to change overnight and Randy imperils his one chance to redeem himself…or is it him accepting his fate?
Mickey Rourke is an underrated actor. I remember him in his younger days in "9 ½ weeks", and his most recent appearance in the awesome "Sin City". He always has that signature raspy voice that gives him a lot of character. In this film, you will hardly recognize him (as in Sin City), his face is so beaten up much like a boxer, his eyes display a feeling of dread and sadness as to what his future might bring. Rourke is much older and he seems poised to give this film everything he has left in his performance. "The Wrestler's" main strength will have to come from Rourke himself. There is quite a good number of touching moments most notably his teary-eyed conversation with his daughter, and the film's final act. Rourke shines through, and delivers in fleshing out his character.
This film may well be a character study of a washed out wrestler, but the film also offers something very significant and serves as the soul of the film. Randy's attempts to begin a new relationship with another "outcast" of society--a stripper (played by Beauteous Marisa Tomei). Their developing romance is fully realized as these two have a lot in common. They made mistakes in some of their deeds in life, now they are both middle-aged and they fear the future. Randy is desperate not to be alone and Cassidy is being careful not to commit another mistake, why would she date someone who obviously is almost same? If you're a screw-up, why would you want another screw-up to share your life with? It was ingenious for Aronofsky to carefully illustrate their similar situations in a subtle manner--both are losing ground each day, Randy's career as a wrestler and Cassidy's days as a stripper are both winding down. Their days of having high returns is just about over, now their careers are bringing a low yield.
The supporting cast is remarkably impressive. However, limited Evan Rachel Wood's screen time was, it serves as a catalyst for the film's final resolution. Wood displays raw frustration and anger in her confrontations with her father. Of course, aside from Rourke, Marisa Tomei is the film's heart. Her performance is indeed quite daring and Oscar-worthy. Tomei's portrayal of a middle-aged stripper is so full of energy and emotional mood. Marisa is an underused actress since she won an Oscar for "My Cousin Vinny". Cassidy is a complex woman, she wants more from her life, but it seems like this is the only choice she can make to support her son. Marisa is alluring and convincing in her portrayal.
The screenplay by Robert Siegel is nearly excellent, it was simple but truly effective in what it was trying to say. There are also some subtle hints that Randy had been grasping to the past--his collection of VHS tapes, an older Nintendo game console, even his stereo all express the idea that he had stood still while time had moved on. It also displays the "brotherhood" outside the ring, younger wrestlers look up to him, and definitely shows him respect. The cinematography by Maryse Alberti is kept simple and intentionally made with a grainy look, to give it a feeling of a documentary. The backdrop is full of nostalgic touches to flesh out its characters-- the old beat up, abandoned beach where Randy takes his daughter, the dark, gloomy bars are all indications that he is a bruised and battered "piece of meat" according to Randy himself.
The film's greatest asset will have to be its simplicity in execution. It is a true piece of life's great stories and Rourke's performance is the film's selling point. The final act is a simple but effective exclamation point that director Aronofsky exudes the film's remarkable message without being overly sentimental. "The Wrestler" is an emotionally involving, compelling piece that displays skill and decorum in its simple storytelling. While the film is a little depressing, it is also very sensitive and sweet that leaves a warm sensation after the end credits have finished.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]
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Also appearing in the film are actual professional wrestlers: Blue Meanie, Johnny Valiant, Ref Hanson, Tommy Rotten, Andrew Anderson, Brolly, Danny Inferno, Necro Butcher, Mike "RAGE" Miller, Paul E. Normus (who died in early 2009), Nick Berk, DJ Hyde, Havoc, Johnny Mangus, Billy Dream, Eric Cobian, Sabian, Nate Hatred, Sugga, L.A. Smooth, Whacks, Devon Moore, The Funky Samoans, Jay Lethal, Jim Powers, Kid USA (as Randy's stunt double), Ron Killings, Claudio Castagnoli, Romeo Roselli, John Zandig, Chuck Taylor and Nigel McGuinness.The Wrestler is a 2008 drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky, written by Robert D. Siegel, and starring ...