|Robert D. Siegel
|Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens
|January 15, 2009
It’s been a disappointing Oscar season so far. I’ve seen a lot of good films but I haven’t seen one that wanted to make me stand up and cheer. That is, until now. The Wrestler is a near-perfect movie. If it’s not the best film of 2009, it’ll be damn close.
Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) is a semi-retired wrestler. Back in the 1980s, he was one of the biggest celebrities in the business. He had everything he wanted – wealth, popularity and success. His most famous bout was against an adversary known appropriately as "The Ayatollah". Their fight at Madison Square Garden is still talked about today.
The world has since moved on… and Randy hasn’t been a part of it. He now works at a crummy looking supermarket and what little income he has is spent on booze and hookers. He doesn’t even have enough to pay the rent. Randy still gets an occasional gig on the amateur wrestling circuit but it’s a far cry from the lofty heights that he once achieved. The crowds are small and his pay cheque is even smaller.
There’s a great scene which sums up the crux of the movie. Randy and a group of other wrestling "has beens" have an exhibition night where fans can come and meet them. They set up their stands and have photographs and VHS tapes ready to sell. Only a handful of people turn up. It was at this point when I truly felt sorry for these guys. Sure, they’re not saints, but they’ve been chewed up and spat out by the system that operates in the world of professional sport. When you’re hot, everyone wants to be with you. When you’re not, no one could care less.
Mickey Rourke’s performance as Randy is the best by an actor in the past year. I’ll be gutted if he doesn’t win the Oscar next month. He is as tough as nails and he throws himself around with unwavering determination. What impressed me more was the "softer side" of the role. Rourke beautifully portrays Randy as a guy who puts on a brave face but deep down, is sad and lonely. He’s such a rich, complex character.
There are two relationships which are explored in the film. The first is with an ageing stripper named Cassidy (Tomei). The pair have always been close and Randy wants to take their friendship a step further but Cassidy is reluctant to do so. She has a strict rule not to get involved with clients. The second relationship is with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Wood). Randy knows that he’s let Stephanie down over the years and he’d like to make amends.
Director Darren Aranofsky has now made two amazing films. The first was Requiem For A Dream and it was my favourite film of 2001. He slipped up in 2006 with The Fountain but has now returned to full form. The style of The Wrestler is little unusual but incredibly effective. It’s a mix between documentary and drama. It feels like we’re intrusively peering into the lives of real people.
When you break it down, this is a movie about a broken man trying to find a purpose for his life. The story of "The Ram" is one that I won’t easily forget.