The sacrificial ram – The Wrestler review

The Wrestler – Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Rated MA for strong violence, drug use, sex scene; coarse language. 109 mins.

Darren Aronofsky doesn’t make things easy for his audience. His breakout film Requiem for a Dream is possibly the most distressing American film ever made. His woefully misunderstood follow-up, The Fountain, explores death and the tragedy of life in heartbreaking fashion. His latest film, The Wrestler, is a riotous crowd-pleaser by comparison. Even so, I doubt you will find a more gut-wrenching movie this year.

Mickey Rourke stars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an ex-professional wrestler who now struggles to pay the bills. He works in a supermarket storeroom by day, and wrestles semi-professionally at night. After a particularly arduous matchup, Randy has a heart attack in the locker room. His doctor tells him his fighting days are over. Seems like his real fighting days are just beginning.

Randy tries to woo Cassidy, a single mother/over-the-hill stripper played by Marisa Tomei. She seems to like him, maybe because he’s a nice guy, maybe because he’s the only one who seems to pay her any attention, maybe because she’s a stripper and that’s her job. She advises him to reconcile with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Wood). Things begin to look up for The Ram, who even enjoys his promotion from the storeroom to the deli-counter. However, like any animal taken out of the wild, it doesn’t take long for Randy’s original instincts to take over.

I never thought I would describe any performance by Mickey Rourke to be ‘subtle’, let alone one in which he plays a tights-wearing wrestler. However, his performance in this film is really one of the most touching of the year. Rourke now more closely resembles a melted-face Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark than his younger self. Instead of his face being distracting, it oddly adds pathos to a man who throws himself headfirst into abuse and pain day in and day out, just to hear the satisfying cheers of the audience. Isn’t that what Hollywood is all about?

The Oscars are often mocked for awarding actors and actresses who follow up their one great performance with a career of mediocrity (Cuba Gooding Jr, Cher, Roberto Benigni etc). Mickey Rourke’s filmography isn’t the most impressive, and I doubt his future will be riddled with hits either. However, I doubt anyone would deny he deserves at the very least a nomination for his amazing performance.

Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, who once seemed to be heading into similar territory as Cuba Gooding Jr, has proven herself to be quite an actress. She spends the majority of the film mostly naked, playing a character desperately holding on to her dignity. Evan Rachel Wood is also excellent as the emotionally bruised daughter of Randy. Much like Randy and Cassidy, she keeps her guard up, and the moment she shows her vulnerability, she’s pummeled to bits. It’s hard to tell which character is the most broken.

Aronofsky, thankfully eschewing his frenetic editing style, gives us his most intimate and affecting film yet. It’s a complete departure in style, although it holds onto some of his favourite themes. People are fated to repeat their mistakes, hurt themselves and each other. I won’t lie – these are tough pills to take. In his earlier works, he forces them down your throat, but with The Wrestler, Aronofsky at least provides some water to help wash them down.

The ending is the kind you will talk about for weeks. The final frame is devastating (hell, the whole film is devastating). You’ll debate with your friends whether the ending is happy or sad. But it’s certainly not depressing. No great film can be depressing, especially not one as sweet, funny or heartbreaking as The Wrestler. As the film points out, wrestling may be fixed, but it certainly ain’t fake. This may be a film, but it certainly ain’t fake either.

5/5

3 Responses to “The sacrificial ram – The Wrestler review”

  1. Great review, Simon, and I have to agree this was one of the best films I have seen in a long time, the Golden Globe was well-deserved and hopefully an Oscar follows.

  2. Agreed, excellent review.Saw this one yesterday and it was spectacular. A rare kind of acting performance that had everyone glued to the screen.It is a credit to the film that in some of his major fights, when Mikcey Rourke took a particularly bad hit, you could actually hear audience members gasp.It makes me want to see the underrated doco “Beyond the Mat” (http://www.quickflix.com.au/public/tools/viewmovie/WWFWWEBeyondTheMat/18208.aspx) again. The Wrestler seemed to be based of some of these harrowing, true life stories of wrestling.

  3. Hey AdamGlad you liked the film!It’s funny you mention Behind the Mat, because the WWF wrestler Mankind actually came out and gave The Wrestler his stamp of approval.From memory Behind the Mat focused mainly on him.Anyway, he came out saying how the film accurately depicted the wrestling life, right down to the fears and fates of older wrestlers (although apparently the drug purchasing sequence isnt 100% truthful)Check it out here: http://www.slate.com/id/2207076/

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