Sunday, January 11, 2009

Movie Review: The Wrestler


Director Daron Araonofsky has returned to the screen (after his latest the Fountain, and of course one of my favorite films of all time Requiem for a Dream) with the tale of Randy "The Ram" aka The Wrestler. In awards seasons, its a surefire bet that you will get a slew of fantastic films, with fantastic and memorable characters. However the Wrestler doesn't only give this -- in my humble opinion, it gives one of the most brutal, honest, and moving portrayals I have ever seen on the silver screen. Without Mickey Rourke this films wouldn't be .. he not only has made a comeback, he has turned in the best performance of his career, and a better performance than many actors could ever wish for.

To talk about The Wrestler, one should first talk about Mickey Rourke. If you delve into his biography you will see that Mickey himself was a boxer in his early 20's before his film career began. He was an amateur body builder, and stopped his budding career after suffering a concussion. He then turned to acting and early in his career worked with Stephen Speielberg, Francis Ford Coppolla, among other huge and respected film directors. Then his fame began in the early 80's with the film 9 1/2 weeks, co-starring Kim Basinger. He was a "sex symbol" for the masses. Then, as it seemed he was ripe to become a true A lister, Rourke got heavily wrapped in drugs and alcohol. He was locked up 3 times in the 80's for a variety of offenses, including violence and drugs. He has been in rehab a stunning 16 times, and finally became sober in 2003. He has been arrested for spousal abuse, two DUI's, and during his drug years he turned down numerous shots to revive his career (including lead roles in the Untouchables, The Silence of the Lambs, Rain Man, 48 Hours, and The Highlander). Director Alan Parker made this statement about Rourke, "working with Mickey is a nightmare. He is very dangerous on the set because you never know what he is going to do". And in 1991, as he continued to try rehab, he decided to leave acting and go back to boxing. He stated: "I have been self-destructing … (and) have had no respect for myself being an actor. I should stop." He actually did pretty well in the professional boxing arena, and won an astounding 14 matches to 1 loss. However he suffered many injuries: a broken nose (twice), three broken ribs, 6 broken toes, a split tongue, and a compressed cheek bone. Thus began the plastic surgery to correct these injuries, and it left Rourke looking like a different man. A broken down boxer - once sex symbol. Then Rourke, after sobriety in 2002 returned to the screen with the movie Spun, which was about the dangers of drugs, and was either loved or hated. Then he took an exciting action spin in Sin City, which was a welcome return -- and now here were are, with Rourke starring as the title role in the Wrestler.

The story of the film, in many ways mirrors the life of Rourke. Randy "The Ram" was a huge deal, 20 years ago, when he was the most famous wrestler in the circuit. A lot of time has passed and Randy now lives in a trailer (which sometimes he can't get into because he hasnt payed his rent), has a hearing aid from years of abuse to his head, and has no one. It seems his closest friends are the kids who live in the trailer park. He is stuck in the 80's, stuck behind his fame as Randy "The Ram". His walls are plastered with posters and photo's from matches, he still plays the origional Nintendo game that bares his likeness. The only thing that seems to keep him living is also the same thing that is cutting his life short: The Wrestling. On the weekends he still wrestles, however in a much smaller arena. It seems he has gone from an A list wrestler, to now a respected, but still D list wrestler. The movie is his attempt to find his life, and somewhat salvage what he has left.

The film does rely heavily on wrestling. I am not a wrestling fan, and I do not think you have to even like wrestling to like the film. (I believe Nicholas may disagree with me .. he didn't care for the movie very much) The Wrestling is mere backstory to whats going on underneath. Some wrestling scenes are similar to those you may have seen on the WWF (if you lived in the South or like such things). However some wrestling scenes, one in particular, was disgusting. I cringed and came near to just shutting my eyes completely at one scene which involved wrestling, barb wire, a staple gun, and tons of blood. But all of this gore isn't needless. It showing you something about Randy. This is a man who will conceal a razor in his costume so that he can take it out and cut his forehead so it looks as if he has been cut due to fighting. This is a man who will allow someone to use a staple gun all over his face and back. And for what? A little bit of money, and more importantly as Randy points out: The cheers from the audience. Its all he knows.

Within the film Randy tries to mend one relationship in his life and begin another. The first would be with his daughter, played masterfully by Evan Rachel Wood. Randy has been a horrible father who has deserted his daughter for most of her life. (Which is a stunning choice in the film not to paint Randy as a complete hero, but a realistic person) Randy returns to his daughter to smooth things over, and the two scenes the share with one another are among the movies best. The other relationship is a budding one between Randy and Pam, played by the unbelievable Marisa Tomei. Pam is a stripper at the local strip joint, where she is known as Cassady. She is in a weak spot in her life, being an aging stripper with a child and seemingly no way out of her situation. She and Randy connect beyond the levels of stripper and customer. The scenes between Rourke and Tomei (especially when they go thrift shopping, or when they sing along to 80's hair band music in a bar) are shining lights in the film.

However the film, as mentioned before, works only because of Rourke. The supporting players are wonderful, but it is Rourke that makes the film. He is in every frame of the film. We see him wrestle, try to love his daughter, try to get a girlfriend, work at a deli counter (in the movies funniest, and then most terrifying scenes), make a comeback, live in the past, suffer a heart attack, and perhaps even commit public suicide. I fear I have said to much, I will leave the rest up to you, the viewer. All I will say is give this movie a shot, if only for the performance of Rourke. He is the true comeback. This is his film. And he deserves it.

***** out of *****

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