Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Archive: 'The Wrestler'

Movie Review
The Wrestler (2008)

"The Wrestler" opens with showing us that back in the heavy metal 80s, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a big deal. He was a star wrestler who got action figures and video games made after him. Now, it's 20 years later. Randy is still wrestling, but it's all for much smaller venues and only to keep him feeling good about what used to make him so great. This is the story of a man well past his glory days. Director Darren Aronofsky ("Pi," "Requiem for a Dream," "The Fountain") takes a large departure from what he's used to and here presents an affecting portrait of this man. His direction is straight and simple, containing no flourishes, showing that he is an assured filmmaker not trying to convince viewers of anything. He lets a portrait unfold before our eyes, a portrait of a man reduced to that of a battered hunk of meat, and you will end up caring about this man more than you ever expected you would.

With long hair and fading highlights that he sometimes keeps wrapped in a bun, a hearing aid in one ear, a fading artificial tan, scars and bruises all over his body, and a face that's had its fair share of beatings, this is the role Mickey Rourke was meant to play. It's astonishing, really, to observe the parallels between Rourke and Randy. Rourke fell from stardom and pissed off quite a few people. He hasn't appeared in anything noteworthy recently except 2005's "Sin City." And now he's back for real playing the role that resurrects Randy "The Ram" Robinson, and consequently, resurrects himself as an accomplished actor. He opens himself up completely, laying out all he has inside, flaws and all, for inspection. Like Rourke, Randy is definitely not perfect. He's self-pitying, and sometimes selfish and arrogant, but he also proves to be saddened and gentle. The performance feels remarkably authentic as actor and role reflect off one another.

There's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into professional wrestling as we see Randy discussing with his opponents how they should plan out the night's fight. The contrast between the violent aggression in the ring as opposed to the kind warmth before and after the match is charming and humorous. The wrestlers find everyday items to bash their opponents with, and they all prepare to make themselves bleed in the ring. One wrestler even suggests the use of a staple gun. One match in particular is shown in full detail, and it gets shockingly brutal and gruesome. We're set to witness, especially in the case of Randy, the pain and exhaustion exerted on broken down bodies.

When not wrestling, Randy sits at home in his trailer or works his part-time job at the deli counter in a supermarket. There are two scenes of Randy working the deli counter. In one, he's embarrassed at first but quickly grows fun and flirtatious with the customers allowing his bravery and soul to shine. In another, Randy's sadness explodes into a fit of suppressed rage. Randy is a lonely and isolated man for the most part, which is why he banks his life on his wrestling alone. There are two important women in his life, though, and a good portion of the movie is dedicated to these relationships. Randy frequents a night club to visit a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) who he enjoys getting lap dances from, but more so, who he just enjoys a nice chat with. Marisa Tomei is the only actress I know of who is never upstaged by her own nudity. Even when she's strutting around a pole baring it all, there is an awareness of her inner thoughts and emotions. She brings heart to a character who could've just as easily been a sexy centerpiece. Cassidy's real name is Pam, and a bond grows between her the wrestler because their jobs have something in common. They both put on an act when they work, and so there's an understanding with each other.

The other woman in Randy's life is his daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). It's a damaged relationship and one Randy so desperately tries to mend. The scenes between him and his daughter are the most tender and heartbreaking scenes the film has to offer. They are phenomenal. This movie is about a man lost in his prime who forces himself to keep at what he's doing because it's what he knows how to do best. I had no clue such full-hearted sympathy would've been evoked, but that's exactly what happens. It's an honest and intimate piece of work from Aronofsky and arguably his best yet. It's endlessly enthralling, powerful, and startlingly moving. It also contains one of the best endings I've seen this year, an ending that fades into the resonant sound of the title song from Bruce Springsteen, which is already winning awards. "The Wrestler" ranks among the very best films of the year.

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