Toronto Review: Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler
by Alex Billington
September 9, 2008
Five days into the Toronto Film Festival and I've found another one of my favorites. I never would've thought that I could gain so much respect for professional wrestling, but after seeing this film, I have. The Wrestler, the latest feature from brilliant indie filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, is an attempt to step out of the norm and try something new again, and this time it's telling the story of an aging wrestler nicknamed "The Ram", passionately portrayed by experienced actor Mickey Rourke. Aronofsky should be immensely proud of yet another cinematic achievement of this caliber, considering this is his fourth film and yet another one that ranks up there in line with Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain before it.
Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) was once one of the best professional wrestlers ever. But now he's old and beat up, has hardly any friends, and is living day-by-day on earnings from weekend wrestling matches and a job at a local supermarket. He agrees to put on one final show with his age-old adversary, The Ayatollah, but has a heart attack after a fight one weekend and is told he can never wrestler again. "The Ram" soon starts to come to grips with his age and tries to make amends with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and build a relationship with his only friend, a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei).
Unlike other films here in Toronto (e.g. Blindness), it's not hard to enjoy The Wrestler. Instead, it's actually quite easy to fall in love with, thanks to Mickey Rourke's powerhouse performance and Darren Aronofsky's impressively fresh directing. The script and story were already polished to perfection, this just needed that magical touch from a director that could turn it into an absolutely amazing film - and that's just what Aronofsky did. Rourke and Aronofsky have created one of the most fulfilling films to watch all year. I've only seen it once so far and already can't wait to see it again. It just goes to show how a simple story can be turned into cinematic gold as long as it's in the right hands.
The Wrestler is undoubtedly a phenomenal film, but with all films of this caliber, I have to start asking whether it achieved a particular level of cinematic bliss like The Fountain. While there really isn't anything that I can say I didn't like about The Wrestler, it just never deeply affected me as much as The Fountain did, except until the very end. That's not to say that this has any problems, just in comparison I prefer Fountain more, maybe because I'm a bigger fan of sci-fi than wrestling. But if you're looking for a film with as much heart as raw talent and more meat than Rocky, than The Wrestler should be your top choice.
From the sensational soundtrack of 80's rock songs that rival Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (which also boasts an impressive choice of music), to Aronofsky's documentary-like shooting style, to the flawless story about a man just trying to live his life, The Wrestler is an awe-inspiring "indie" film that I love more with every passing day. It may not reach the same heights as The Fountain (one of my all-time favorites), but it comes close, and that's an achievement worth noting. Aronofsky has shown us yet again that he's more than the average director - he's one of Hollywood's greatest filmmaking talents. And by the end of this year, we'll definitely be hearing Oscar buzz for Mickey Rourke, if not for Aronofsky as well.
Toronto Rating: 9 out of 10