Saturday, January 17, 2009
Movie Review: The Wrestler
So I finally managed to watch The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. This is the last film of 2008 that I really wanted to watch before posting my year in review material, though it was a safe guess I thought that it wouldn't make my Worst list. I was really intrigued by several facets of this movie, specifically Mickey Rourke and the word Oscar being mentioned in the same sentence.
Rourke, who I thought was fabulous as Marv in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's Sin City, really hadn't been on the radar much throughout the mid 1990's and into this decade until Sin City rocketed him back into the spotlight. His portrayal of Randy "the Ram" has already earned him a Golden Globe, so I knew that I had to check this film out.
The premise of this film is that Rourke is Randy "The Ram", an old broken down professional wrestler who was one of the biggest stars of the 1980's who now in 2009 is facing hard times. Having spent all of his money, "The Ram" lives in a trailer that he is often locked out of for failing to pay his rent and who works weekdays unloading stock for the local grocery. On the weekends is when he rekindles his past glory by wrestling at small local shows, where his name still holds a small measure of promise.
Randy, whose real name is Robin Ramnisky, doesn't know how to face life being anything other than "The Ram." His daughter, played by Evan Rachael Wood, has disowned him, and his only friend is a local stripper, Cassie, played by Marisa Tomei. Cassie is older than most of the other girls at the club, and often finds herself with her most dependable client, Randy. The to develop a bond, though at first Cassie just looks at him as a way to keep making a few dollars. Eventually the sparks of a relationship develop that Cassie tries to push away, not wanting to mix her business and private life. Randy learns that Cassie is just her stage name though, and Randy discovers her real name is Pam and that she has a 9 year old son and wants to quit stripping and move to a better neighborhood.
After a particularly hardcore match, involving ladders, glass, and staples "The Ram" has a heart attack back stage and is forced to give up wrestling. Here is where the movie really finds itself, as the "the Ram" tries to become Robin Ramnisky, by re-connecting with the daughter he abandoned in childhood through the help of Cassie, and by taking on regular work at the local grocery as a deli clerk. The true question that Cassie and Randy face is whether they can survive as the other half of the persona they have been playing for so long. Can Robin leave "The Ram" behind when one more big match arrives, a rematch of his most famous bout on its 20th anniversary? Or can Cassie leave behind the world of stripping that has been such a part of her life before age completely leaves her behind, like Randy.
The film is wonderful. Director Darren Aronofsky, who also directed The Fountain and Requiem For a Dream, really gets down and dirty with his film making. There are no track shots or dolly cams, just single camera work, often times handheld. The world these people inhabit is real and poor, dirty and visceral. The film isn't about wrestling, though he gets it dead on. He shows the sport with realism without ever mocking it. He highlights the humor and the camaraderie of the wrestlers without ever making fun of them. He really keeps the film about the path that "The Ram" has taken, and where it has taken him.
The acting is great as well. Rourke is the only guy who could play this part. Such a parallel in careers, where both had seen there hay day in the 80's, and both character and actor were , to quote Rourke's character, "broken down pieces of meat." You really feel for his character and the mess he has made of his life, and that he acknowledges himself as a failure in many ways. Tomei and Wood really complement the story arcs as well, with Tomei facing similar decisions in her life. Both roles could have become very cliche, the stripper with a heart of gold and the angry abandoned daughter, but each actress leads Rourke to some of his best scenes. I really love the very touching scene between Rourke and Wood where he only wants his daughter to not hate him anymore. Very powerful. This is film that is honest to the point of brutality, where you really feel the pathos of each actor.
I even need to comment on the soundtrack a little, using staples of classic hair metal from the 80's, like Ratt and Guns and Roses, really kept the nostalgic feel that his character still lived in his glory days. The ending, which I won't ruin, is a bit abrupt, but is very moving and fitting for the characters.
Overall this is easily one of my favorite films of the year and maybe one of the best performances of an actor that I have seen. Where Rourke ends and "The Ram" begins is a difficult line to shade, but do yourself a favor and see this movie. The Wrestler, with Mickey Rourke, Maris Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, directed by Darren Aronofsky.
End of Line.