movie film review | chris tookey
 
     
     
 

Wrestler

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  Wrestler Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
 
Average Rating
7.86 /10
 
Starring
Randy "The Ram" Robinson Mickey Rourke , Cassidy/Pam Marisa Tomei
Full Cast >
 

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Robert D. Siegel

 
 
 
Released: 2008
   
Genre: SPORTS
DRAMA
   
Origin: US
   
Colour: C
   
Length: 109
 
 


 
A majestic masterpiece.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Mickey Rourke (pictured) beat off all opposition at this year’s Golden Globes and I wouldn’t bet against him carrying off Best Actor at the Academy Awards. In The Wrestler, he delivers the performance of his life, and one of the finest I have ever seen on film.

Rourke’s beefy physique more than hints at his other career as a boxer. His swollen, ugly mug makes him look as if a hundred doors have slammed in his face. He’s the ideal actor to play Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a wrestler on the skids who’s a self-confessed “useless, broken-down piece of meat”.

Rent arrears mean that one night, returning from glorious victory, he can’t get into his own, squalid trailer, so he has to sleep in his van. The fact that he keeps bedding in there suggests this may not be the first time.

Years of performance-enhancing drugs have taken their toll. His eyes and ears are starting to fail. His long, bleached hair isn’t getting any more fashionable.

He hasn’t been on speaking terms for years with his daughter (Evan Taylor Wood), and his glaring, masculine defects may have contributed to her becoming a lesbian.

He has bleary eyes for a local lap-dancer (Marisa Tomei) but she isn’t allowed to date customers, and anyway her priority is her young son.

In any case, The Ram’s one true love has been his fan base. But even they are deserting him.

The Ram’s heyday was twenty years ago. Now, after collapsing in the dressing room and being given a heart by-pass, doctors warn him that any attempt to re-enter the ring will result in heart failure and death.

So, for once in his life, he does the sensible thing. He retires, gets a job serving at the deli counter of a New Jersey supermarket, and gets back in touch with his daughter. But he is what he is, and that doesn’t include being an unselfish family man. Offer him the temptation of a coke-sniffing slut, and he’ll forget everything else. He’s part lovable lug, part self-destructive loser; and there’s never much doubt which side is going to come out tops in that particular wrestling match.

Robert D. Siegel’s screenplay is spare, elegant and beautifully structured. I liked the way that Tomei’s main supporting character parallels The Ram’s emotional journey. She and he are good at only one thing, pleasing an audience, and both are aware that their powers and earning ability are waning fast.

Tomei’s role seems at first like a cliched tart with a heart, but she’s not only real, she’s moving. She still looks extremely fit for her age, which is 44, and Oscars have been won for much less than she achieves here.

As for Rourke, his recent turn in Sin City suggested he was ripe for a comeback, and this is it. He shows total commitment to The Ram, finding in him a rueful humour and even a tragic grandeur.
Director Darren Aronofsky was guilty of pretentiousness in both his debut Pi and his last movie, the disastrous The Fountain. Not here.

Although The Wrestler is more conventional than anything he’s attempted before, it’s more than just a throwback to other great fight movies, like Rocky or Body and Soul. And It’s more warm-hearted than the film it superficially resembles, Scorsese’s Raging Bull.

Where Aronofsky’s previous best film, Requiem for a Dream, evoked the horror of drug addiction, The Wrestler is equally clear-eyed about the danger of other addictions: to performing, success, and most of all the fickle adulation of fans.

There are two classic scenes at the deli counter: one where The Ram uses his showmanship to make the job work for him, and then a second, when he realises that the public wants him only for what he was, and will always regard the older him as a loser.

Aronofsky takes an unsentimental view of wrestling, seeing it as a degrading modern equivalent to gladiatorial combat. But he also has the sense to see its practitioners as showmen risking all for their “art” and giving each other respect. It’s not wrestling but the crowd’s applause that’s the dangerous drug.

You could see The Ram as some kind of Christ figure, but the movie has fun with that possibility early on, when Tomei looks at his injuries and says they remind her of The Passion of the Christ. She tells him about some of the trials experienced by Jesus in Mel Gibson’s movie. “Tough dude,” he comments, admiringly. “Sacrificial lamb,” she replies.

Note the hero’s nickname. He is a sacrificial Ram. Although he’s the “good guy” in the ring and therefore must triumph to satisfy the mob, convention means that first he has to suffer bloodily at the hands of the “bad guy”.

That’s why Aronofsky is right to show The Ram’s physical suffering in detail. The after-effects of in-the-ring brutality with razor blades, barbed wire and staple guns, are shot with unflinching candour. This is The Passion of The Ram.

And we understand why he’s willing to suffer such torments. It’s for love of his audience’s adulation – for their sins, if you like, which include voyeurism, sadism, gullibility and sheer bad taste.

This is strong meat, and the exact opposite of a feelgood chick flick. You end up with a visceral sense of a brutalised, brutalising celebrity culture, its attractions for adoring and adored alike.

Most films take a benevolent view of the masses – hardly surprising, really, since they are trying to make money out of them. This movie isn’t afraid to show the cruelty of the public, and that’s virtually unique in a Hollywood film. It’s also the reason why, although it’s the bravest and best picture of the past twelve months, it probably won’t be Oscar-nominated for Best Film.

I watch very few movies which couldn’t have been improved upon, but this is one of them. I loved every mythic moment of it.


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