Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Wrestler (2008)

Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, et al
Rated R, 111 minutes

Darren Aronofsky came across my radar screen when I watched "Requiem for a Dream" last summer. I gave that film a positive review. It made me even more excited for his next announced project, "The Wrestler." I've been a fan of professional wrestling since I was 7, when I saw Bret Hart, Jerry "The King" Lawler and William Shatner all entangled on WWF Monday Night Raw. Yes, I still managed to watch it after seeing that spectacle.

Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a once popular grappler who's now making the rounds at armory halls and hometown arenas for hundreds of dollars a shot. He still abuses his body with drugs. He's estranged from his daughter (Wood). Despite having to hold down a regular job at a supermarket, Randy still frequents Cheeks, where aging stripper Pam (Tomei) gives him some semblance of human contact. After a bloody match, Randy collapses. He needs heart surgery. But he also needs the ring to survive - in more ways than one.

Our first live scene is The Ram 20 years after his popularity, using a children's classroom as a dressing room. As a wrestling fan, I could extrapolate that Randy was just living the life many '80s stars do now. Making their appearances wherever they can, using what's left of their fame. I didn't think that was so clear for a regular viewing audience. This might have been more powerful if the introduction featured footage of a young Ram, rather than all the posters and commentary sound.

Being a fan also took out some of the discovery for me.
A lot of people who saw this movie were fascinated by the behind-the-scenes look into the squared circle. Although I already knew the sad truth for many formerly big wrestling stars, it still moved me to watch The Ram amble through his life. Without wrestling, what was there? Not much.

Kudos to the production team for getting it right in a lot of places. The scene at the autograph signing, with wrestlers of yesteryear peddling merchandise, was apt. The old video game Randy plays of himself was well created. Mickey Rourke looked the part. I was impressed with his ring skill. His work in this movie was correctly praised. Kudos too to Marisa Tomei, managing to keep beautifully classy while appearing (awesomely) naked.


I enjoyed it. The near two hour film flew by. But I think my prior knowledge of pro wrestling held it back from greatness. I recognized the minor league organizations and wrestlers. In these familiar, still-current surroundings, my mind was occupied thinking about The Ram as an actual wrestler. All the award hype might be justified, but it was hard for me to see over my biases.

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