Review by Jack Foley
WE’VE been here many times before, of course, but the stakes have seldom seemed so high for those involved.
The Wrestler not only offers one of the comeback roles of the century for its star, Mickey Rourke, but also an emphatic reminder of the filmmaking talents of its director, Darren Aronofsky, following the major career wobble that was The Fountain.
But first Rourke. The actor plays the role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson as though it were an allegory for his own life. He is perfect casting, living and breathing the character through every moment of heartbreak, every dubious decision and every physical torment.
Randy is an ex-headline wrestler now eeking out a living performing for handfuls of diehard wrestling fans in high school gyms and community centres around New Jersey. When he suffers a heart attack and is told to stay out of the ring for good, Randy attempts to atone for his past sins and redirect his wayward life.
In doing so, he begins an unlikely relationship with an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei) and tries to reconcile things with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). But as his sense of identity begins to fade, and the realities of his new life hit hard, Randy finds himself irresistibly drawn back to the ring.
While reminiscent of a lot of American underdog sports tales, The Wrestler never aspires to a fairytale ending. Rather, Randy is a character trapped by the ravages of time and the limitations of his own situation. Redemption, if it arrives, must come through honest endeavour and hard work – a concept he finds increasingly difficult to deal with.
Rourke wears Randy’s desperation on his sleeve, along with his pain and suffering (both physical and emotional). The scenes in the ring are ferocious (even wince-inducing), but they don’t hurt as much as a confessionl moment between him and his daughter, which are heartbreaking in the extreme.
Each tearful lament is uttered as if straight from Rourke’s own heart (rather than Aronofsky’s screenplay) – but none more so than when Randy makes a heartfelt speech to his fans just prior to the final match we see him in.
Where Randy may ultimately fail, though, Rourke’s real-life destiny seems tailored towards success. He’s already deservedly picked up a Golden Globe and the Oscar is almost certain to follow.
Aronofsky, too, deserves maximum credit for his own return to form. Much maligned after the indulgent The Fountain, he here makes a return to real-life emotions and honest, pure storytelling. The construct of The Wrestler may be overly familiar, but Aronofsky – whose best work includes Requiem For A Dream – makes us feel like it’s worthwhile revisiting.
There are, of course, genre stereotypes and the odd cliche, but in the main The Wrestler overcomes its limitations to rate as an instant classic in its genre. It is a movie that very much deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.
Running time: 109mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 1, 2009
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