Kevin's Review: The Wrestler - The Bout of the Year

December 17, 2008

As part of the generation of raucous young WWE fans suplexing siblings in the living room, I grew to know professional wrestling pretty well. Later in life, I learned it was even crazier than I originally thought, because so much of it was for show. I won't say that it's fake, because that would be too flippant. In fact, those that participate have real bruises to prove it. In Darren Aronofsky's latest, The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke shows us just how real those wounds are and the physical and emotional toll they take. Rourke's performance is so honest, so intimate and so natural, you nearly feel like you're watching a documentary. Rourke is nothing short of incredible as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, which makes calling Rourke an actor here seem like a slight. He's doing more than just acting. Equally incredible is Aronofsky, who's quiet character study proves that The Fountain director has got some serious range.

It's no question that Rourke is a weathered, eccentric Hollywood anti-hero. What other gravely-voiced badass do you know that carts around a chihuahua? Rourke gained prominence in the '80s (with films like Rumble Fish and Pope of Greenwich Village), only to squander those achievements before dropping out of acting in the '90s to pursue a career in boxing (at 35 years old, no less). Returning to film has been a long, uphill battle for the man, but I'd venture to say he's scaled his Everest with the performance here. The Ram is such a rare fusion of person and character that it's almost impossible to tell where Rourke begins and ends. But it's not just a case of perfect casting. The depth and expanse of pain, love and hope in The Wrestler, manifested largely through Rourke's character, is something of a marvel.

The Ram struggles to stay in pristine physical condition while fighting in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler.The Wrestler Review

The Ram is a washed-up professional wrestler who, in his older age, rations out scraps of fame collected from a high-profile career years ago. The man is tired, tortured by old injuries, and poor, but despite it all maintains a Labrador-like enthusiasm for and loyalty to wrestling. So when the chance to fight again in a rematch with one of his greatest bouts, The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller), The Ram can't say no. As the trailer-living old pro starts on his return to greatness, Aronofsky gives us a brutally honest look at what a life like this must be, from maintaining the showmanship blonde mane to the episodes of tanning and shaving to the drug use that both hurts and helps to the loneliness of the gym. The depictions have an incredible authenticity and humbleness to them. Aronofsky bolsters this through his documentary-style filming, following behind Rourke much of the time. It's a wonderfully effective technique, and gives you a real sense for The Ram's existence as you follow his routine through his sore, groaning lumber.

This atmosphere made one short scene especially touching to me - a brief moment where Aronofsky shows The Ram sleeping in his trailer, snoring heavily. In actuality, Rourke wasn't acting in this scene and the cameras just happened to be available to capture the moment. Seeing his character at a point of plain rest and stillness was truly startling, considering the constant, tortured air of the film. Though fleeting, the scene highlights the realness of Aronofsky's work and when juxtaposed against the rest of the film, gives the emotional and physical turmoils an even greater hue.

The Ram and his stripper friend Cassidy share an intimate moment in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler.The Wrestler Review

While The Ram prepares for the biggest battle of his career, he ultimately faces one that is not only unexpected but more difficult: a heart attack. This event opens up the other half of the film, which surrounds his personal relationships, both with his favorite stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), and his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Cassidy and The Ram step past their patron-performer arrangement and become something more. In the process, we're presented with yet another outstanding performance by way of Tomei. Her character is in many ways a parallel to Rourke's and even though we're not afforded the same studied look at Cassidy as we are The Ram, Tomei delivers a heartfelt, breasts-out performance that is equally stirring. Wood manages to pack a similarly moving execution into an even shorter time on screen, which helps opens up Ram's failed-father side. The scenes of Ram and Cassidy shopping for a birthday present for Stephanie provide a heady look at these relationships. The scene on the boardwalk is a remarkable one, as well.

There's just so much to like about Aronofsky's Wrestler. While small in domain, the film is miles long in feeling. From the struggle against irrelevance to the difficulty in reaching out and making amends to following one's passion, The Wrestler is a heavy-weight film that wrenches more emotional touch-points than any other this year. I doubt anyone would have thought that a film based on a profession of illusions could be so real. Rourke has won the biggest match of his career and I, for one, can't stop cheering.

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I look forward to seeing this film.

Quanah on Dec 17, 2008


I saw this film on Tuesday at a special screening and I cannot even begin to tell you how good this film was. I am not into films with a lot of hype because usually it leads to a disappointment, but this film lived up to all the hype. Throughout the whole movie you feel for the character and it even almost had me in tears towards the end. This is def. a must watch film for anyone who has good taste in movies.

Barnaby Barrilla on Dec 17, 2008


Cant wait!

Ray on Dec 17, 2008


im on board like pirates baby

ill will on Dec 17, 2008


The Limited release is Dec 17 ... 2008 ( not 2009) looks like it will be available nationwide January 16, 2009

Tim on Dec 17, 2008


Mickey looks like a giant compared to Marisa in that picture

Scott McHenry on Dec 17, 2008


ok im in

xcv on Dec 17, 2008


Spot on again Kevin. I'm so torn, I liked this movie a lot but I really loved Milk. Don't get me started on Gran Torino, it's a crazy great month for movies.

tzarinna on Dec 17, 2008


Spot on review!!!! My favortie movie of the year as well!

dee on Dec 17, 2008


That's the first 10/10 review I've read on this site, super excited about this film can't wait to see it. Looks brutal and honest, but warm. Elbow drop!

Crapola on Dec 18, 2008


Will this come out in a wide release? Does anyone know?

600RR on Dec 18, 2008


Kevin where did you see it?

Heckle0 on Dec 18, 2008


It's in NY and LA right now, but expands on Xmas day (at which time it'll be in DC, for instance). Not exactly sure what other states it might hit next week.

kevin on Dec 18, 2008


will check it out.

darrin on Dec 18, 2008


Hope it expands here in the Philippines 🙁

ashton21 on Dec 18, 2008


Crap...was hoping you saw it in CO. Damn.

Heckle0 on Dec 18, 2008


Current nationwide release plans for The Wrestler... Wednesday, December 17th: Los Angeles New York Friday, December 26th: Boston Chicago San Francisco Washington, D.C. Friday, January 9th, 2009: Austin Dallas/Ft. Worth Denver Detroit Hartford/New Haven Minneapolis Philadelphia Phoenix San Diego Seattle Friday, January 16th, 2009: Albany Albuquerque Atlanta Baltimore Boca Raton/West Palm Beach Cincinnati Cleveland Columbus Honolulu Houston Indianapolis Kansas City Las Vegas Madison Miami/Ft. Lauderdale Milwaukee Northampton/Springfield Orlando Portland Rochester Sacramento Salt Lake City/Boise St. Louis Friday, January 23rd, 2009: Anchorage Asheville Baton Rouge Birmingham Buffalo Champaign/Decatur/Springfield Charlotte Charlottesville Colorado Springs Corpus Christi Dayton Des Moines Ft. Myers Gainesville Grand Rapids Harrisburg, PA Ithaca Jacksonville Knoxville Lansing Lexington Lousiville Memphis Nashville New Orleans Norfolk/Newport News Oklahoma City Omaha Pittsburgh Portland, ME Providence Raleigh/Durham Reno Richmond San Antonio Santa Fe Sarasota Spokane Syracuse Tallahassee Tampa/St. Petersburg Tucson Tulsa

Radka on Dec 18, 2008


The heart attack give away was a let down. I hate reviews that give out twists like that.

Joe on Dec 18, 2008


wow 10 out of ten wow wow wow cant wait

werdnafaz on Dec 18, 2008


Guys - the heart attack is not a twist and it is not a spoiler! First off, don't read reviews if you're THAT sensitive. Second off, it happens BEFORE the halfway mark, making it a plot point that would probably show up in official synopses. It won't ruin the experience, trust me on that!

Alex Billington on Dec 20, 2008


looks fantastic

ManBearPig on Dec 20, 2008


I'm with 18. I think its bullshit that the heart attack was let loose in the review. Just leave that part out and talk about the performances and the basic synopsis. Let me SEE THE MOVIE and experience all that it has to offer as fresh as I can (Except what I we see in the trailer of course).

Conrad on Dec 21, 2008


You better stay away from the trailer Conrad, 'cause it reveals a huge ass bypass scare on his chest. 😮 Every synopses I've read has mention the heart attack.

tzarinna on Dec 21, 2008


Jan. 9th it comes to Philly, DAMN! Tough choice, this or BRIDE WARS :)???

Ryan on Dec 22, 2008


Spot-on review - absolutely amazing film - def 10/10!!! My review:

Conor. on Dec 28, 2008


Absolutely amazing film! Recently attended a work colleagues birthday party and his roommate was watching this film in another room and just had to bypass the celebrations and watch for the second time! Mickey Rourke gives a phenomenal performance which is sometimes misunderstood by the younger generation who are not aware of the real life struggles the actor experienced. I have a young cousin who hated the film until I explained in detail Rourke’s career, downfall and comeback which left him wanting to see the film again. The comments about the heart attack are a bit dramatic, let’s be honest before we watched Rocky 4 we all knew he would win in the end but still enjoyed it!

Charlie on Dec 13, 2009

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