“The first glimmer of hope in the whole fucking festival,” sighed Helen as we left the PalaLido after the second press screening of The Wrestler. Word was already coming in from the first one, in the half-hour gap between the two, and, thank God, it was good. And 100 minutes I later I had to agree. Mickey Rourke is absolutely sensational as Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a faded wrestling star coming to terms with his mortality and his empty life. “I'm just an old, broken down piece of of meat,” he tells his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Coincidentally, I met Rourke at the Rachel Getting Married party on Wednesday, and I was surprised to find him very charming, very friendly and disarmingly approachable in a way that I hadn't expected. There's a lot of his real personality, I feel then, in The Wrestler, a film that plays like a Rocky movie for children of the 80s, but with a greater willingness to explore the dark side of its antihero.
After a montage of memorabilia from The Ram's heyday – scored with the poodle rock of Quiet Riot's '(Bang Your Head) Metal Health', we first see Randy in a children's classroom that is doubling as a dressing room. He makes less money than he's been promised because the gate's not been good, and he returns to his trailer to find that his landlord has changed the locks. So far it's not pretty, and it's about to get even uglier: Randy shows up for a booking that could be a scene from Hostel 2, fighting a sad-masochistic opponent who attacks him with a staple-gun and a fork, causing lacerations that have to be glued back together. Randy has sunk pretty low but he doesn't care; as he says later, this is his world and he has nothing outside it – like the stripper 'Cassidy' (Marisa Tomei), whom he worships, Randy is about to find that his work life and private life cannot coexist.
The turning point is Randy's heart attack, which forces him to pull out of an impending fight, a 20-years-later rematch that he'd hoped would re-energise his career. Instead, Rourke tries to put his affairs in order, visiting his daughter, trying to settle down with 'Cassidy' (who's real name is Pam, just as Randy's real name is Robin) and getting a higher paid job behind the deli counter in a supermarket. And if this sounds very low-key, it is. There's very little camera trickery from director Darren Aronofsky, and there's only one mild attempt to break out of linear narrative. It is, however, recognisably the work of the man who made The Fountain and Requiem For A Dream. Like the former it's a film about death and immortality, and like the latter it's about the human capacity for self-abasement, which is vividly expressed in the bloody staple-gun fight. But these are expressed by the cast, not Aronofsky's camera, in looks and words, but it's hard to pick out the film's best scene because there are several. Perhaps my favourite is the scene where Randy starts work behind the deli and slowly turns it into a performance. But then I also like the scene in the clothes shop, where he's shopping for his daughter, and the scene in the bar where he pines for 80s metal...
Ultimately, this is Rourke's film through and through, and it's not hard to see what must be painful (for him) echoes of his own career. But it's never sentimental; even when his legs are wobbling, we're rooting for Randy because we believe he can, and will do it one day. And if you've ever felt that way about Mickey Rourke, believe me, you're going to love this movie. I did.
ex machina Posted on Friday September 5, 2008, 16:34
This is a film with "Get in the ring" by Guns N Roses in it,how could it fail?
I've been anticipating "The Wrestler" since its first announcement,Aronofsky is close to godliness in my eyes,an immense talent.I like Cage but this project did have Rourke written all over it and I just hope he gets the recognition that most critics feel he deserves for his performance come award season.The man needs to know that he's appreciated
I'm interested in hearing Mansell contribution,no critics have really touched on the quality of his work yet.
Manfrendshensindshen Posted on Friday September 5, 2008, 17:24
That sounds very interesting indeed. I really liked Aronofsky's Pi, I can't stand Requiem For A Dream and haven't had the kudos to watch The Fountain yet. My main gripe with requiem was its complete and, judging by Aronofsky's intelligence, intended lack of subtlety - it was like some 70's 'drugs are bad for you' education movie on (excuse the pun) speed. Yes, the actors were good, but their characters were awful stereotypes and Aronofsky tried to hammer the message into the viewer's head not only using ham-fisted symbolism, but also by employing his usual visual trickery overload. A more taciturn and less gimmicky approach is therefore more than welcome, especially as he CAN direct actors and wouldn't have needed all his visual showmanship to distract from any shortcomings in that area. I also have to agree with ex machina - I'm also very keen to find out what kind of sound Clint Mansell has come up with this time.
And yes, Rourke is ace, be it as pretty 80's poster boy with bad boy second persona or as decrepit has-been. He just oozes charisma.
hellboy22 Posted on Saturday September 6, 2008, 10:36
I'm sold on this, I'm a big wrestling fan anyway and I have some knowledge of the hardships of the road and the personal sacrifices the guys make to chase the dream. Should be a very good film but I would be surprised if it gets the right kind of attention from critics because of the subject matter.
JohnnyBGoode Posted on Monday September 8, 2008, 17:15
And Bruce Springsteen has written a new original song for the closing credits!
A second Oscar for The Boss?
richCie Posted on Friday September 19, 2008, 14:52
I'd had little interest in this from the title, i couldnt care less about wrestling, but your write-up has changed my mind Damo, it'd my mark the first Aronofsky film i've seen aswell. (Fountain has been sitting on my shelf pretty much since the DVD came out...)
Haylo Posted on Monday October 20, 2008, 22:49
Same here- long time wrestling fan who appreciates the stories behind the people and knows that for every Dwayne Johnson that has managed to make it big, there's a Terry Funk who is carrying on when he shouldn't have to. I'm a bit surprised at Aronofsky doing it, especially given my feelings about The Fountain but I'm definitely looking foward to this.