on March 4, 2009
I've been a wrestling fan since the '70s and it's one of those things that I have to hide from most people because they think it's a joke or they just don't understand what it's appeal is. Then came along "The Wrestler" and now my friends are asking me questions and taking interest in "the business". I saw the movie with some friends and family and we had some very spirited discussions afterward. They couldn't believe that these guys would, for example, mutilate themselves to have blood in matches (a practice called "blading" that's performed with a small piece of a razor blade), or that years spent in the ring will leave most wrestlers battered and even disabled thanks to the legit wear and tear that wrestling has on the body. Most people assume a wrestling ring is a trampoline, but it's actually like landing on concrete and over time there's a price to pay for taking bumps on such a hard surface for so many years. "The Wrestler" reveals all of these issues wrapped up in an enthralling and emotional motion picture you wont soon forget.
Life imitates art on several levels in "The Wrestler". For example, the movie shows the dark side of steroid abuse that has caused a laundry list of wrestler deaths in just the past 10 years (the pressures of the Monday Night War era claimed the lives of countless wrestlers). Well, during the first backstage wrestling scene, Mickey Rourke's character shakes hands with a wrestler that is huge and jacked to the gills. That wrestler died from heart failure a few weeks before the movie's release. Also, there is a scene where another huge and overly muscular wrestler sells several illegal muscle enhancers to Rourke's character. That wrestler was recently arrested for selling drugs. But the real story here, is how Mickey Rourke's character of Randy the Ram mirrors Mickey's life in many ways. Both are former stars, both have pushed their bodies to the limit in sports (Mickey revealed on the Charlie Rose show that he was forced to quit boxing because one more serious blow could've been it for him) and both want to get back in the spotlight. Thankfully, Mickey has achieved his goal of regaining the spotlight. As for Randy, that's a different story.
Randy the Ram, seems to be based on a combination of former wrestlers Lex Luger and Jake the Snake Roberts. Lex Luger's ailing body and rock bottom financial situation plus Jake's volatile relationship with his daughter were definite inspirations for screenwriter Robert Siegel. Mickey takes the experiences of Lex and Jake, along with his own and shapes a character that he was born to play. The part was originally written for Nicholas Cage, but I can't imagine anyone but Mickey Rourke playing this part. Mickey plays Randy with such heart and soul that he truly makes the audience feel for him. We feel his pain, we relate to his shortcomings and we cheer him on to find love and rebuild the relationship with his daughter. When Randy apologizes to his daughter for being on the road wrestling and not being there for her when she needed him, you feel it.
As a wrestling fan, one of the most powerful scenes takes place at the end when Marisa Tomei's character begs Randy not to wrestle just moments before the start of a match due to his heart condition and Randy tells her that he belongs out there. It's the only place he fits in, it's the only place he feels successful and loved. Randy's music then hits and a man who looked broken down and beaten just a second ago, busts thru that curtain and walks out as a superstar with the crowd eating out of his hand. It's a powerful scene that sums up why so many wrestlers find it so difficult to walk away from the business.
Don't let the fact that "The Wrestler" takes place in the world of professional wrestling keep you from seeing it. You don't need to be a fan to enjoy this movie. Wrestling is merely the backdrop for the drama taking place on the screen. Everyone puts in amazing performances. Rourke and Tomei deserve their Oscar nominations and Evan Rachel Wood nearly steals the movie. Just keep this in mind while watching it. Don't get too wrapped up in the drama, because after all, it is just a movie. And movies are just fake, scripted entertainment with predetermined outcomes.
on January 15, 2009
Impressed by Mickey Rourke's Golden Globe winning speech, I decided to go see this movie.
Randy 'The Ram' Robinson fought the Ayatollah in Madison Square Garden back in the 80s, and still battles today. Ill met by fate, bruised and battered, his sinewy muscles scarred, his bones creaking in protest he still has the fight, and like a One Trick Pony he sticks to what he knows. It's a desperate life.
As you may recall in Raging Bull, Robert De Niro put on about 40 pounds to play fighter Jake La Motta as he got older, and he won an Oscar for his dedication to the role.
Mickey Rourke does something no less astounding here, putting on huge bulk to assume the persona and convincing physique of a professional wrestler. It's the most amazing acting performance of the year. The lines between actor and character blur and disappear. The kind of pain you see on Randy's face cannot be pretended. It can only be relived from the actor's parallel experience, which is what makes Rourke's performance so compelling.
For female companionship, he goes to a local bar, where a fetching stripper played by Marisa Tomei, Academy Award winner for My Cousin Vinny, gives him a lap dance for a fee. He can barely make rent, yet he has priorities.
Marisa gives an incredibly authentic performance, and it's a welcome surprise see her take it off in the name of art. I applaud her courage in doing so. Her physique is simply amazing, and her body art is very intriguing.
Evan Rachel Wood plays his estranged daughter. Previously, she played the female lead part in Across The Universe, and already has a quite impressive filmography under her belt. Here she sports a different look, and gives a perfect performance.
Some of the wrestling sequences are truly outrageous, and not a little disturbing. Having cut my finger on a ham slicer early in life, seeing people operating ham slicers gives me the heebie jeebies. If you have a problem with the sight of blood, I caution you that there are some disturbing sequences in the movie.
The Academy's actor awards tend to go to actors in two types of role:
1.Psychopath- No Country for Old Men, The Usual Suspects, There Will Be Blood, Training Day, Silence of the Lambs.
2.Mentally Disabled, Social or Physical Handicap, overcomes great adversity or discrimination- Shine, As Good as It Gets, A Beautiful Mind, Ray, Scent of a Woman, Capote, Philadelphia, The Pianist, A Beautiful Life.
Randy definitely has a handicap, and last year was the year of the psychopath, with both Daniel Day Lewis, and Javier Bardem winning Oscar.
I hope you find this helpful.
on January 24, 2009
Growing up in the 80s, Mickey Rourke was James Dean to me. His part was too small for me to notice him in BODY HEAT. The critics had caught a glimpse of him and his potential in that film. I knew that I was on to something watching him as the fast talking womanizing Baltimore con-artist Boogie, in Levinson's DINER. His honesty as an actor pierced my emotions, even though he was playing a character that was lying throughout the entire film. When I witnessed his serene and suicidally introspective portrayal of The Motorcycle Boy in Coppola's urban dreamscape of S.E. Hinton's teenage angst novel RUMBLE FISH, I knew that I had just witnessed The Rebirth of James Dean. When I saw his cool slowburning streetwise Italian dreamer, Charlie in THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLIAGE, I knew I had found a film actor I could idolize. I wore my hair like him. I tried to dress like him. I wanted to be him. Man, this was the COOLEST actor taking the coolest parts in Hollywood! Mickey was IT!
But, like Dean, it seemed that Mickey would metaphorically and almost literally crash and leave us with only three truly GREAT films. After a few briefly compelling performances in the 80s as the hardboiled Kowalski in Cimino's YEAR OF THE DRAGON, the lascivious John in 9 1/2 WEEKS, Harry Angel in ANGEL HEART, and the hilarious Henry Chinaski in BARFLY, Mickey's career dwindled into lesser leads, bit parts, and cameo roles. Mickey became "difficult" to work with. Mickey wanted to give up the studio politics and the collaborative involvement with a craft that he was, quite literally, born to do. And become what? A boxer? The owner of a hair salon? A biker? A thug? Then, Mickey lost himself for 14 years. In a reply to a ten year hiatus question backstage at The Golden Globes, Rourke said, "Let's get it right. Ten years sounds easy." Ultimately, he was alone. Mickey Rourke was forced to do some soul searching.
Into the 21st Century, no one noticed Mickey's hilarious turn as The Cook in SPUN. A wild and sardonically dark comedy about methamphetamine users. (The Cook watches and adores wrestling on TV while cooking up his dope. One wonders if this gave Aronofsky the idea to cast Rourke in THE WRESTLER?) His sad and tender moment at the end of that film was a revelation of things to come. The final monologue is a wonderful precursor to his character in THE WRESTLER. It broke my heart. Then, a new generation of fans and critics were talking about him again, after grabbing everyone's attention as disfigured Marv in Robert Rodriguez' comic book pastiche, SIN CITY. Sort of a throwback to Rourke's JOHNNY HANDSOME. The best thing about SIN CITY was Rourke's performance. It stood out like a sore thumb. Even over the special look of that film.
Now, things have changed for Mr. Rourke. With the critical acclaim (for once they got it right) for this film, he is all over the talk show circuit recalling his loneliness, his mistakes, and episodes from his former life. Like a 12 stepper, Mickey now seems humble and apologetic. Thanking everyone for giving him the chance to once again become the serious actor he once was. (We should all thank them too.) He is no longer taking anything for granted. Everyone loves a humble winner. And God Bless him, Mickey Rourke is BACK! And his performance in THE WRESTLER is a WINNER!
The generous Mr. Darren Aronofsky has given Mickey Rourke the role of a lifetime with this film. Knowing Rourke's reputation for being next to impossible to work with, Aronofsky could not get the financing for this film when he first attached Mickey's name to the project, but promised Mickey an Oscar nomination if he would only listen to his direction and do everything he was told to do. Mickey kept his promise, and it appears that the masterly and prescient Aronofsky has kept his. THE WRESTLER was not written for Mickey Rourke, but was later tailored to fit him personally. The themes are semi-autobiographical.
The story is not complicated. Although, changed and improvised due to Rourke's involvement, the script, written by Robert Siegel, is reminiscent of a 20's or 30's bloody pulp fiction boxing story that could have been penned by the creator of Conan The Barbarian, the late Robert E. Howard. It is a simple pulp character study about a lonely beaten man who has been to the top of the mountain only to be brought back down again by the repercussions of his actions, and a savage career choice that has taken a brutal toll on his body from staged battles, steroid juice abuse, and a lot of 80's Hair Metal. (The biggest laugh in the film, comes from Rourke's line about Kurt Cobain and what he did to 80's Metal.) Filmed in a grainy Indy style with long loose tracking shots and circular handheld camera movements, it is a sad, gritty, brutal, and COMIC semi-documentary narrative told mostly from Randy "The Ram" Robinson's POV. Not every movie goer will appreciate the raw look of this film, the patchwork sequences, or the triumphantly open ending. True film lovers will.
The performances here are very brave indeed. Marisa Tomei is essential as Cassidy. She bares it all as a sweet, conflicted, past her prime stripper mom, unwilling to succumb to The Ram and his half desperate attention for her affections. Most 40 something actresses wished they looked this good, but might never agree to pole dance almost completely nude in a film about an aging wrestler. You will fall in love with her all over again in this film. Her Nomination for a Golden Boy is well deserved.
Unlike De Niro who donned 40 lbs of fat for his role as Jake LaMotta, Rourke bulked up approximately 40 lbs of muscle on top of his already commanding girth. Rourke is scarred, pimpled, pumped, and battered. His body and visage are roadmaps of world weariness and pain. One grim shot shows Rourke shooting steroids into his veiny, mottled, and scarred rearend. A selfless dedication and adherence to character. A fearless commitment by a great actor to shamelessly open himself up to his audience. Baring his wounded nakedness, as well as the internal wounds to his lonely psyche. And isn't this what we love about our greatest actors? This film IS Mickey Rourke. Body and Soul. This is an extremely giving performance. It is symbolic, commanding, sad, demanding, honest, demure, comic, tender, uplifting, and most of all, heartbreaking.
A broken man searches for acceptance, dignity, and redemption, but finds himself instead.
The same can be said about The Second Coming of Mickey Rourke. THIS IS A GREAT FILM! Just give this man his Oscar. I can only hope Mick gets his Harley back!
This is The Best Film of 2008.
on April 17, 2009
Synopsis: Robin Randzinski, though better known by his ring name Randy "The Ram" Robinson (played by Mickey Rourke), is an aging wrestler who went from selling out the Madison Square Garden in the late '80s to splitting time between wrestling at a semi-professional level and working as a butcher's assistant just to make a living. Living alone and close to poverty, he befriends a stripper named Pam, who herself is better known by her stage name Cassidy (Marisa Tomei.) After wrestling in a particularly brutal hardcore match, Randy suffers a heart attack and learns his body can no longer take the strain of competing as a wrestler, thanks in a large part due to years of drug abuse. With a new outlook on life, Randy realizes his biggest regret: Losing contract with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). He does what he can to adjust to normal life, but can Randy escape the self-destructive behaviors that got him to where he's at in the first place?
Mickey Rourke's portrayal of a faded wrestler was the largest reason why I was floored after I saw this film. I've met people who've wrestled semi-professionally and have seen wrestling documentaries such as Beyond The Mat, so I use my experiences with both as a yard stick in saying this. Rourke's performance was beyond remarkable in regards to authentic it felt. He put himself through what many others put themselves through on a regular basis to demonstrate the suffering these performers go through to maintain the sport and entertain it's fans. Rourke didn't just play the role in the film; he became Randy "The Ram" Robinson and you couldn't help but give your empathy toward his character, no matter how much of a screw up he was.
I also enjoyed Marisa Tomei's role in the film (and no, not just because of the nude scenes.) I've met women who, like wrestlers, have had to sell their body just so they can get by. She demonstrates the balance of having to use your sexuality to make a living while having to protect herself from both abuse and emotional attachment. Much like Rourke's character, she can't escape her stage persona simply because she isn't working; it's ingrained into who she is because of what she does.
In the end there were no fireworks, no glory, no spectacular situations for anyone to claim champions of. There's no Hulk Hogans or Stone Cold Steve Austins to excite thousands in attendance and millions watching at home. There are only the gutsy up-and-coming semi-pro wrestlers trying to be the next star, over-the-hill semi-pro wrestlers trying to recapture who they used to be, and small venues jam packed with the hundreds of fanatic fans who'll keep coming as long as the door's open for them. The wrestling can be hard to watch but it's nothing that's overexaggerated; it's only what many do to themselves for the love of what they do and the entertainment of those who cheer for them.
This has managed to become one of my personal favorite movies. I recommend it to all.
Update: 8/19/2014 - I went back and re-watched the film. To my delight, many of the "semi-pros" who were featured on here are now showcased in the WWE or TNA. Cesaro, R-Truth, and Robbie E are all here in their pre-National television personas. Perhaps the real life story is better than the one painted here...
on February 24, 2009
The Wrestler marks Darren Aronofsky's growth as a film-maker from strange, science-fiction tinged films to films with emotional resonance in a real setting. I am a huge Aronofsky fan, loving Requiem for a Dream nearly as much as Pi, but I was underwhelmed by his last effort, The Fountain. His films are almost unbearably intense, most prominently shown in Requiem, but The Fountain abandoned his first two films' grittiness for a sleeker, polished story-line, exploring ambitious philosophical themes while failing to deliver on the emotional level. For a while, I was worried where Aronofsky's career would go, especially after seeing that he was helming a project called The Wrestler, which seemed to deviate from the subjects of his previous works.
The Wrestler gets everything right. Aronofsky trades high-minded philosophical themes for a more grounded, concrete narrative. He also reestablishes the inventive camera-work that made Pi and Requiem so aesthetically stunning, shooting almost the entire film on a hand-held camera. And, lastly and most refreshingly, he reinstates the violence and shock-value of his first films, escalating the wrestling scenes to cringe-inducing bouts of brutality and decadence. However, such violence is in aid of characterization--to show the hearts behind these men in the ring, to demonstrate the toll such entertainment may take on one's body, all in the service of a loyal, loving audience.
"The only place I get hurt is out there," says "The Ram" as he enters the ring towards the end of the film. Rourke, giving a breathtaking performance that should have EASILY triumphed at the Oscars (it's a travesty that he didn't win), provides us a window into the tortured soul of a man who's thrown his life away for the sake of his profession. No matter how much Ram deviates from our idealized vision of a hero, the audience never feels any animosity towards him; he screwed up, and he knows it, but he can't help it.
The mirrors to Rourke's life are easily seen, making the film into some manner of Greek tragedy rather than mere drama. It is Aronofsky's presence, and a wonderfully crafted script, that sets The Wrestler above other comback portraits like Rocky; the brutality is reminiscent of Raging Bull, and the style behind the film is a marvel in itself. The Ram is equated to Christian iconography, pointed out by Marisa Tomei's stripper, in that he suffers for humanity--not only is it an effective comparison, but it gives the film more depth than the average comeback piece. The buildup of sounds is used frequently as well, to great effect, to further the window in the life of the Ram.
The film is not for everyone; my sister refused to watch the wrestling scenes, because they are quite shocking. Some scenes are rather melodramatic, but effectively so, making the film a draining emotional experience (I went teary-eyed at least twice). But, it is a rewarding film if you have any interest in the craft, or wish to see the performance of a lifetime by Mickey Rourke.
on March 27, 2009
In a blazing triumph of American film making, The Wrestler is exactly what the bulk of films can never achieve; realism, intensity, sensitivity, regret, love, lust, redemption, and glory all in the same dazzling effort. All the while accomplishing what it sets out to be, and perhaps more, it is also the best character study that I have seen in years.
The director is wise to waste no time in throwing you into the violence. If that's something that is going to put you off from the film then it's just as well that it's done at the first. That said, I didn't see this film as being overly violent. The violence is a necessary device used in the right moments to let the viewer know what the life of a wrestler, and this particular wrestler, is all about. The aftereffects are shown so it is not for the sake of gratuity.
As I mentioned, the violence is limited. It only occurs in a few scenes that are very integral to the plot and it isn't lingered on, glorified, or depicted without realistic consequences.
This film would not be half of what it is without the commanding, captivating, and soul rendering performances of the brilliant Mickey Rourke and always engaging and fascinating Marisa Tomei. Each one had their character in their guts and it shows on the screen.
Rourke, in his true form and element, plays Ram. He's the battle scarred, drug and steroid-taking, estranged from his daughter wrestler who has seen better days years earlier when he was at the top of the card as a major star for larger promotions. He now finds himself on the wrestling slagheap and is working independent shows on the weekends for a wad of cash while living in a trailer and having to work at lowly jobs in a store through the week. Rourke runs the emotional marathon between extreme pride and respect on the weekends to the forced humility and the poverty of a working stiff at an entry level job during the week. To make matters less pleasant, his bosses seem less than sympathetic about having him around. Through this all, one can't help but feel the isolation, loneliness and pain of the character of Ram. The most affecting scene for me in this regard is when Ram is at an autograph signing with a bunch of obviously broken down wrestlers and there are very few fans and he just looks around and contemplates the desolation. It is one of the saddest moments in the any film. Mickey Rourke deserves every award that he was nominated for, including the Academy Award.
Marisa Tomei plays a stripper at a club that Ram frequents and they have an obvious attraction for each other. Tomei's character is supposed to be past her prime and not one of the strippers who are in high demand due to her advancing age. The idea of men not being attracted to her was the only unbelievability about this movie. She plays the stripper with all of the charm that she can deliver with gusto but one can see the weariness in her eyes and a longing to be somewhere else. Ram is on friendly terms with her as he is a frequent patron of the club and he gets to go slightly beyond the "don't socialize with the customers" line that she has set up for herself. She is raising a son and does not want anything to detract from her focus to make a better life for herself. It is demonstrated that she certainly has an exception for Ram in her heart, if not physically.
Evan Rachel Wood is the estranged daughter with which Ram is desperately trying to regain contact with and she wants nothing to do with him. He was never there for her as is the life of a traveling wrestler. Ram has a heart attack at one of the shows and is told that if he wrestles again that he may die and now his need to mend fences with his daughter is more palpable than ever and produces one of the most emotional scenes in the film.
Despite the specter of death, Ram is offered one last big match. It is a 20th anniversary match with an old nemesis of his played by Ernest Miller. Ram briefly retires as he tries to get his life back together and after being rebuffed by his daughter and Tomei he decides that the people are his family and he's willing to risk death (shortly after heart surgery) to get back in the ring. It's less about the occasion and more about the pride.
I'll let the reader watch the movie for the rest of the plot. I will not give away the resolution in a review.
Darren Aronofsky expertly directed this film in a documentary style which makes it feel more like a documentary about pro wrestling than any actual documentary on pro wrestling to date. The lighting, mood, pacing, and performances are first rate. It's directed and edited in such a way that there is no wasted moment or emotion, and the viewer feels it.
For this reviewer a further compelling aspect of this film is what it is like when two people, a wrestler and a stripper, who are each someone different at their work than they are in real life, get to know each other outside of those settings. This dynamic produces the Aurora Borealis of character acting by Rourke and Tomei that ultimately make this picture the masterpiece that it is.
I give this all five stars and will probably watch it repeatedly.
Kevin W. Mattingly
on April 22, 2009
Made on a shoestring budget by the visionary director of Requiem for a Dream (Director's Cut) and The Fountain (Widescreen Edition), The Wrestler marked the much publicized comeback of Mickey Rourke. Truth is that Rourke has appeared in many films over the last few years sporadically. This is a "comeback" in a much grander sense. This is an acclaimed actor giving the performance of his life, a performance that makes you want to cheer while never resorting to the obvious inspirational clichés. The Wrestler is one of the top five best films of 2008. It's not grand, technical filmmaking but it was one of the most profound movie-going experiences I've had. It's entertaining and powerfully moving, coupled with incredible performances, a raw script, and a perfect directorial style.
Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, once a famous professional wrestler now reduced to playing small, local gigs to a small, nostalgic crowd. Randy lives in a trailer, struggling to make the rent balancing wrestling with a part time job at a supermarket. With no friends, Randy finds solace and human contact with a stripper (Marisa Tomei), whose job isn't unlike his. While trying to reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), Randy sees one final shot at the top in a re-match with the Ayatollah.
It's worth noting that you don't have to like wrestling to love this film, although it does clear up some of the misconceptions about the sport. Wrestling is "fake," in the sense that it's staged...But when you're getting hit with a chair or slammed to the ground, it's real. The film does a very good job of explore the thin line between "real" and "fake."
What The Wrestler is really about is a performer who has no roots in the real world. He lives and breathes to be this character, it's all he knows. Only with a roaring crowd does he feel at home. This film is much deeper than its subject matter and title imply.
There's so much raw, real human emotion here. It could've easily strayed into familiar or predictable territory, but Robert Siegel's script does not allow it. This is not an inspirational film about a down-on-his-luck wrestler, on the verge of a comeback who falls in love with the stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold. The film takes a bleak look at these characters and shows them as people. They're flawed, they make mistakes, not everything turns out all right in the end. All of this is handled masterfully by director Darren Aronofsky; strange, since this is his most simplistic film in terms of filmmaking style. The musical score by Clint Mansell isn't mentioned much in reference to this film, but it's really terrific. It's subtle and underscores every scene perfectly, adding to that bleak simplicity.
As for acting, Wood doesn't seem far removed from her Thirteen character as Randy's estranged daughter, but she does a good job with what she's given. Tomei got an Oscar-nomination for her role. She's certainly a brave actress, who looks stunning at 40. This is not an easy character to play, but Tomei brings believability to the role that many actresses would not have. It's a 3-dimensional character that could've easily been a 1-dimensional one.
Now, let's talk about Rourke. What a performance! There's no hiding the parallels between Rourke's real life and the character of Randy the Ram, but don't think this is just Rourke playing himself. I can't express the level of disappointment I felt when Sean Penn's name was read as the winner of the Best Actor Academy Award. Sean Penn is one of the finest actors of his generation and he did an astounding job bringing Harvey Milk to life. But Rourke more than physically becomes Randy the Ram, he brings such life, such pathos to his character that I have no doubt in my mind who gave the superior performance of 2008. It's certainly the most affecting and most powerful performance of that year.
There's a scene near the end where Randy is talking to the crowd and says "...I ain't as pretty as I used to be...As time goes by, they say `he's washed up. He's finished. He's a loser. He's all through.' But you know what? The only ones who are gonna tell me when I'm through doing my thing is you people here." This is the emotional climax of the film. This isn't just Randy talking to the crowd, its Rourke talking to us; the people who still care about him. I'm glad to have him back. He's not through yet and even though the film has ended...I'm still cheering.
on December 10, 2011
Glad to see so many positive reviews of this great little film, it almost makes what I want to say redundant but I'll say it anyway.
The criticisms I've read express incredulity at the main character's decisions. These people clearly are not middle-aged or they would have some sympathy for what it feels like to still be young and wild at heart and yet dread the onset of old age and their body's failing. Sooner or later, we all learn that though we may grow as human beings, we're essentially the same people throughout our lives and no one "feels" like their age.
But I cannot make you understand what it was like to be part of a wave of hyper-reality, an "age" with it's own "zeitgeist". I imagine the people that lived it up day after day (or weekend to weekend) in the city atmosphere of the 1920's would appreciate what those who took life by the throat in the 1980s experienced. Even if you were not a regular fixture anywhere that enjoyed this spirit, you knew it was there - you could feel it: a level of reality above what we normally experience even on our best days, a seemingly endless party we drift in and out of. I experienced this myself in the mid-1990s in the New York Industrial/Gothic scene. And if you were the "Main Attraction" as Rourke's character is in the film, this truism goes a thousand times more. It isn't simply his accomplishments that he longs for, it's an time period and it's spirit. The absence of this is what affects his decision most by the end.
Before everyone got high, some few took it to the limits. Before everyone liked hard music and biker styles, a few roared like lions at the soft pink Izod shirt/Huey Lewis banality that permeated the mainstream in the 1980s. And if you had a little money and fame you could tear things up in the eyes of your adoring fans and be more than who you actually were. Hyper-reality, the best drug on earth and the most difficult to find or sustain.
For a time into the 1990s there were places you could go and things you could do to find this high - subcultures, raves, orgies, bizarre new drugs like Special K, etc.. I found it had all but disappeared for me by 2000 while every part of American culture had become flat and common. Perhaps the latest such high exists on current foreign battlefields for the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who enlisted in the War on Terror. Maybe the high has become much more personally expensive than simply having a big hair-do, sleek car, and coke money - now it can cost you your life. I don't know. Only those who serve can corroborate what I'm trying to express.
"The Wrestler" is an unfair film - to believe in the logic of Mickey's final decision you had to have been there, I think - and that's a pinnacle few scaled though all could see from the valley of cultural mundanity.
I can't think of Mickey Rourke and not remember his work two decades ago in films like 9 1/2 weeks and Angel Heart and The Pope of Greenwich Village. He was a handsome "Bad Boy" and seemed to be on a career arc similar to Johnny Depp and Robert Downey, Jr. The story goes that he was quite difficult to work with, and he lost acting opportunities. He became a professional boxer and went undefeated in eight international bouts, but took enough of a beating that his handsome face is substantially different.
Darren Aronofsky (of the brilliant "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream" and the not universally embraced "The Fountain") directs Rourke in a documentary-style film that positions Mickey Rourke perfectly in the role of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler who is way over the hill.
The Ram was big - headline wrestler at Madison Square Garden big - but 20 years after his famous bout with "The Ayatollah", Randy wrestles small-time matches in little gyms and community centers surrounded by a crowd of a few hundred. He lives alone in a small trailer park, and finds himself locked out early in the film, presumably because he's behind on his rent. After he gets a few dollars into his hands from a wrestling match, he heads to bars and his favorite strip club. Not long after he's locked out of his apartment he spends 60 dollars on a lap dance.
Randy is over the hill in just about every way that a person can be. He has a daughter who hates him for all the fathering he didn't do, and his heart, punished by his lifestyle and the pharmacy he pumps in so that he can wrestle, doesn't have that many ticks left. After a heart attack his kindly Doctor advises him that he just simply can NOT wrestle any more.
Randy is initially compliant and takes a more permanent job from a snippety little man who has been giving him part-time work. The Ram pushes his flowing rock `n' roll mane up under a hair net and works at the deli counter, slicing cheese and ham and doling out pasta salad into little plastic containers.
Marisa Tomei, another performer with a reputation for being "difficult", does amazing work here as the stripper with a heart. She plays Pam, who has the stage name "Cassidy", and she has a soft place in her heart for Randy, even if he is beat up, ten years older, and tosses out young roughnecks when they're disrespectful to Cassidy, even if they were going to be paying customers. But Pam also keeps Randy at arm's length, and for much of the film you don't know if it is because she was only pretending to like him or because she believes in the stripper's rule of not dating customers.
Wrestling, we learn at an age slightly older than the age where we find out about Santa and the Easter Bunny, is fake - and some of the most interesting scenes in the film are seeing the buddy-buddy behemoth wrestlers backstage discussing the fake carnage they're going to enact in the ring. Like much of the entertainment biz, "making it" in wrestling is not so much dependent on talent as coming up with a gimmick to hook the audience. Randy has his famous "Ram Jam", diving off of the top ropes in the corner of the ring onto a prone opponent. Before one match Randy's opponent asks him if he's "okay with the staples". "Staples?" Randy asks. "Staple gun. Doesn't hurt that much going in, except a little scary, you know. Gonna leave marks - a little blood loss." So, although we're reminded that the outcomes of the wrestling matches are fake - decided beforehand, usually in favor of "The Face" and against "The Heel", but the little details like staples and blood aren't faked.
The best scenes in the film are when Randy is out in the real world, trying to find a foothold in the parts of his life he knows should be important. But the choices he made that allowed him to become "Randy the Ram" have left gaping holes he is unable to repair, and Rourke's acting job makes this pathetic man a completely sympathetic character. I found myself hoping that Randy's fragile heart would keep ticking long enough for him to reconcile with his daughter and break through Pam's façade.
on February 28, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert often says, "It doesn't matter what a movie is about, but how it's about it." In other words, any topic can make a good movie, if the filmmakers & actors use the tools correctly. For too long, pro wrestling has been dismissed in the entertainment community. Darren Aronofsky's THE WRESLTER isn't going to convince people to start watching televised wrestling, but it will certainly put a heartbreaking face on a business that is often called "fake."
THE WRESTLER begins with a credit sequence, showing hundreds of fake magazine covers and newsclips which detail the rise of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. After the glorious hard rock music comes to a close, "The Ram" is seated in a lonely corner, surrounded by toddler tables and toys. His pay is less than he expected. His fans ask for autographs of photos from a time that's been long gone. His home is a trailer that he can't afford to keep the landlord from locking out of.
Randy continues to perform, however, because that indominable spirit that exists in most professional wrestlers has overpowered his common sense. After a particularly vicious hardcore match (where the two opponents use glass and ladders and staple guns), Randy passes out. He soon learns that his heart can no longer endure the intensity of wrestling.
Mickey Rourke deserves all of the accolades he's received. He clearly performed some of his own wrestling maneuvers, and delivers the kind of performance he's always been capable of since the 80s, but rarely delivered since then. Rourke knows how to look when in the wrestling ring, knows when to brood in his sadness, knows how to desparately relate to the young kids in his trailer park, and even knows how Randy "The Ram" Robinson breathes. It's not a show-stealing performance, but a subtle one that draws you in from start to finish.
Watching Randy Robinson's life outside of the wrestling ring is where this movie really shines. There are two outstanding performances from Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. Wood plays Randy's daughter Stephanie, a young woman who rarely saw her father, and has becoming increasingly resentful of his absence in her life. It's a shame that the dramatic moment where Randy cries his soul out to Stephanie has been played for critics and TV coverage; thankfully, it's still a powerful scene. It's followed by a touching dance between the father & daughter, in a room with no music, but the two at least have their harmony for that brief moment in time.
Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy, a stripper whom Randy frequently visits. Tomei's character gives the "veteran who won't retire" story some much welcome depth. She shares Randy's struggle to remain in the spotlight with a generation that no longer wants her. There are several occasions where Cassidy offers the customers a good time, and they bluntly refuse her services. In perhaps the best scene of the movie, Cassidy and "The Ram" finally go to a bar together, and reminisce about how great the 80s were for them. It's a scene of masterful acting, where we sense that the two actors are actually listening to the other's feelings. Almost 20 years ago, Marisa Tomei was heavily-criticized for winning an Academy Award in a performance that most thought required little effort. Let me tell you all something, the best actors are the ones who you forget are acting, and when you start calling the stripper "Cassidy" instead of "Marisa Tomei's character".
Mickey Rourke, Evan Rachel Wood, and Marisa Tomei add a wonderful dose of reality to THE WRESTLER, a movie that addresses an industry that celebrates hyperealism. Darren Aronofsky is to be commended for restraining his stylized visuals when he directed this feature film. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM was a powerful piece of anti-drug cinema, but THE WRESTLER is thankfully much more like the gentle ROCKY than like Oliver Stone's supercharged ANY GIVEN SUNDAY. Besides, THE WRESTLER isn't even a sports movie; it's a movie about a sports entertainer. Some wrestling fans might not like how the film focuses more on Randy Robinson than the world of professional wrestling. But hopefully they'll realize that the movie would've betrayed its story by focusing on the in-ring spectacle. You can't feel the sadness of an old-timer's unrequited passion if you're constantly sitting under the bright lights and alongside the rabid crowds.
My only critcism of THE WRESTLER is that the in-ring action might not please longtime wrestling fans. There are basically three matches in the movie, and the first one is a frightening letdown. I've been to many local shows, and the main event is never a 3-minute contest. The other two matches are acceptable, and are made better because of their dramatic implications. I will leave you to discover how those play out in the story. In a way, this criticism is a compliment, because I sincerely believe that people who are NOT wrestling fans will enjoy this movie MORE than those of us who are. And when "The Ram" makes his final leap to glory, and Bruce Springsteen's wonderful song plays over the black curtain call, we all feel for "The Ram". We condemn his self-inflicted damage, but admire his courageous spirit. In the end, THE WRESTLER makes it our responsibility to decide if pro wrestling has destroyed "The Ram", or has saved him. I don't which side of the fence you'll be on, but any movie that gets you talking about the fenceline is well worth your time.
***PS, how did Bruce Springsteen not get nominated for the Oscar for Best Song? That is beyond ridiculous!?***