Movie Review #703
This review is dedicated to my first cousin, Bryan, who is a wrestler.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Country: USA – France
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Produced by Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin. Written by Robert Siegel.
Rated R by the MPAA – violence, sexual content, nudity, profanity, infrequent drug material. Runs 1 hour, 49 minutes. Premiered in New York City, New York on December 8, 2008; and in Los Angeles, California on December 16, 2008. Limited release in the USA on December 17, 2008. Wide release in the USA on January 30, 2009; and in France on February 18, 2009.
Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. Also starring Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller, Dylan Summers, Tommy Farra, Mike Miller, John D’Leo, Ajay Naidu, Gregg Bello, Ron Killing, and Giovanni Roselli. Featuring credited cameo appearances by Ryan Lynn, Andrew Anderson, Austin Aries, Blue Meanie, Nicky Benz, Brolly, Lamar Braxton Porter, Claudio Castignoli, Cobian, Doc Daniels, Bobby Dempsey, Billy Dream, Rob Eckis, Nate Hatred, Havoc, DJ Hyde, Inferno, Joker, Judas, Kid U.S.A., LA Smooth, Toa Mairie, Kevin Matthews, Devon Moore, Pete Nixon, Paul E. Normous, Papadon, Sabian, Jay Santana, Sugga, Larry Sweeney, and Whacks; and uncredited cameo appearances from Michael Marino, Robert Oppel, Emanuel Yarbrough, and John Zandig.
“The Wrestler” is an imperfect but intense drama. Its muscles are as strong as they could ever be, built up by its heavy meditation on the main character’s soul-in-action. Wrestling is a drug for Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke). The eighties was his heyday as a pro wrestler, and after two decades of withdrawal, he’s brought his body back to fight.
Battered. Tattered. Torn.
It’s as if instantaneously that this man is sucked into the glory of wrestling once more; to himself, Randy swears he’ll never give up wrestling again. Twenty years, he realizes, would have been no different for him if he was on hiatus or asleep. But with his beaten body, he’s prone to damage, not just the pain he so relishes. Things just won’t feel right for him when he suffers a heart attack, and is forced to put aside wrestling for good.
Darren Aronofsky directed and produced “The Wrestler”, and much like anything else in his canon (“Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Fountain”, “Black Swan”, the soon-to-be-released “Noah”), the movie is extremely bleak. He’s using the same setup he began with in 1998, which is that a character with an obsession will end up in the hell of self-destruction if he doesn’t restrain himself. This journey from purgatory is an engaging one, if a bit too bleak. I say this only because the tone works against the tale. The story is a thorough slice of life, but it often gets caught up in the art of depressing its audience. Our interest in the movie just isn’t in the gloom, but in the tragic hero who is surrounded by this gloom.
The drama is everything and nothing a sports movie. Perhaps someone who avidly watches pro wrestling would enjoy this more than myself, or perhaps that has nothing to do with it. The drama was written by Robert Spiegel, who formerly wrote–get this–news satire for The Onion. It’s nearly impossible to tell, and in fact, the most over-the-top sights only enhance the living, breathing quality of the movie. Despite how much worse it could have gotten, scenes when staple guns and ladders enter the ring are not easy to watch.
It goes without saying that with a less genuine centerpiece, “The Wrestler” wouldn’t work as the movie it was positioned to be. Mickey Rourke gives this hero lungs and a heartbeat. His understated, powerhouse delivery channels the interesting role to a point that lands not too far from a description as real. The whole movie is superbly acted, with him in the unmistakable lead. (Evan Rachel Wood, in her riveting performance, would classify as a runner-up.)
In an Aronofsky movie, it’s that very last moment that counts. What “The Wrestler” offered in this case was underwhelming. He doesn’t than depict or even suggest the character’s self-destruction this time. Between the last shot, the long pause before the credits, and the solemn entrance of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” (a great song that creates an overly sudden contrast with any of several preceding hair band songs), Aronofsky suggests the ambiguity of either self-destruction or life continuing as-is. The finale is new, but it feels decidedly underwhelming.
That’s half of my thoughts on the ending. Everything before is fantastic, and perhaps the closing half hour is the best half hour one could extract from the movie. Rourke’s numero uno in this movie makes for a gripping finishing act, to the point where that extended final scene had me shaken.
THE WRESTLER IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.