Toronto Review: Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler

September 9, 2008

The Wrestler Review

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

Find more posts: Opinions, TIFF 08



I can not wait to see this film. It looks really good.

AllmightyKeim on Sep 9, 2008


This film looks like a sleeper hit.

MCab on Sep 9, 2008


Alex you lucky bastard. All the reviews for this film are positive. This review just increased my anticipation.

Film-Book dot Com on Sep 9, 2008


The fountain was the most worthless movie every made. I despise that movie with every fiber of my being. So if you like this movie does that mean it is another steaming pile of donkey crap.

Brandon S. on Sep 9, 2008


Wow the fountain is more worthless that Glitter? Man thats pretty bad...(sarcasm)

Kyle A. Koyote on Sep 9, 2008


Needless comparison with The Fountain really. You should strive to improve a bit on that Alex, you keep drawing rather stupid comparisons.

Darunia on Sep 9, 2008


@6 It's true. I'm more surprised he didn't make a dumb Dark Knight reference.

Soup Nazi on Sep 9, 2008


Let me take this moment to clarify for those who are concerned about my comparison to The Fountain. I understand that they're two very different movies, but in terms of my cinematic experience, The Fountain was truly cinematic bliss. When The Dark Knight ended, I was holding my breath because it was such an amazing experience that I had just been through. When The Fountain ended, I felt the same. But it was not the same with Wrestler... All that means is that I was making a simple comparison saying that Fountain was that much more of an awe-inspiring film to ME. And Wrestler, while fantastic on all of its own merits as mentioned above, did not achieve that same level of absolute bliss, but it is still a GREAT achievement for Aronofsky and Rourke and a definite hit that I loved.

Alex Billington on Sep 9, 2008


Brandon S, Obviously, you weren't able to grasp the concept of the Fountain. The Fountain is one of the few movies to actually make people think rather than just assuming the audience is a bunch of mindless retards who need to have every part of the plot laid out for them. I'm glad someone was finally bold enough to make a film like that; the meanings and philosophy behind the Fountain are just too much for the average movie goer to comprehend. Do some research and watch the movie again; I know you will like it.

?? on Sep 9, 2008


The Fountain was, like Alex already described, breathtaking. It changed the way I view the afterlife and gave the most unique portrayel of the theme of love that I've ever seen. If Aronofsky can take my favorite childhood pastime, wrestling, and create as unique of a tale as The Fountain I'm sure it'll give me a whole new appreciation for the "sport" For those of you who disliked The Fountain could you elaborate as to why? Also, I'm curious if you enjoyed Aronofsky's other works such as PI or Requiem for a Dream because I believe his style isn't for everyone and wondering if it's the film you didn't care for or just his filmmaking style as a whole. He really is an acquired taste, like a complicated riddle that frustrates the hell out of you until the day you figure it out and then you're passing it along to all your friends to see if they're able to solve it too.

Peloquin on Sep 9, 2008


You can compare the two simply because they share a director. It doesn't matter if they're very different films, they do have similarities if only because of their shared director.

Will S. (Co Springs) on Sep 9, 2008


I am eagerly wainting Wrestler but I am afraid that like Requiem for a dream (which is a good movie), Wrestler has an "easy" eye catching story (exactly the opossite with the Fountain -as one person correclty in my opinnion writes above the Fountain is simply too demanding for the average movie-goer or culture-geek to comprehend and experience) so while I will be eagerly waiting Wrestler I would be really pleasantly surprised if it comes even close to the Fountain experience. I am beforehand pissed off about all the critics and the movie goers that will write "at last after the failure of fountain a good movie like requiem for a dream"

xevc on Sep 9, 2008


I am a huge wrestling fan Ive never missed a wwe show or wcw or tna show. I am now prepared to miss this movie due to the fact that you said the fountain was a great movie. The fountain was absolutely the worst movie i have ever seen period. And i have seen a shitload of movies, probably more than everyone posting combined.

dac_fan on Sep 9, 2008


The Fountain is a story about the rebirth of the Universe in man. The Wrestler is the story about a retired wrestler. I can see how you can make the comparison, Alex, but in all fairness. I personally think a better comparison would be to his first outstanding cinematic work, Pi. How does it compare? Is it a return to form? I don't need to know how it compared to 2001 to know if its a worthwhile film or not.

Djo on Sep 10, 2008


Okay, now I'm not the average mindless moviegoer but I completely hated The Fountain. I even watched the making of supplements and it seemed like Aranofsky spent a lot of money traveling around and ended up with a jumble of a movie. A lot of visuals b ut lacking content. I felt like I spent days watching Hugh Jackman float in a bubble. To me Requiem for a dream was fantastic, The Fountain....Crap. Just my two cents. Oh and I also liked Pi.

Obiwopkenobi on Sep 10, 2008


unfortunately there are many stories in wrestling that are like this. It's sad, it really is. I saw Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka wrestle in my high school gymnasium to a crowd of 30 kids and their parents. It was a lackluster event that I went to because I remember when Snuka was a premiere wrestler, helping sell out entire arenas full of screaming fans. It's INCREDIBLY rare that wrestlers get the Hulk Hogan retirement plan with millions of dollars in the bank and new sponsorship deals coming to your doorstep every week. Sgt. Slaughter was my all-time favorite. I happend to be passing by a town street festival where he was going to be showing up to sign autographs and stuff. I went to go get an autograph and there were maybe seven people lined up to see him. This guy, BY HIMSELF, sold out madison square garden when he wrestled the Iron Sheik. There was no Hulk Hogan on the ticket, no other names, it was Slaughter vs. Sheik. These guys are regular schmucks now, aging fast and trying to catch a little bit of what they used to have.

Chris H. on Sep 10, 2008


I just read this small article on the Mickey Rourke and I'm even more excited to see it. Seems his past is a dark one but it looks as if his life parallels with this role pretty well. I know its not great to post links sending people to another site, but I thought this interview puts an insightful foundation of what Rourke's performance is like in "the Wrestler" We saw that self-deprecating yet determind identity he portrayed with Marv, so I'm not surprised to hear Toronto's 9/10 review. I'm excited to see this movie. Not to mention I'm Jersey-born and bred!

Nick Sears on Sep 17, 2008


Mickey is amazing, as I'm sure this film will be because of his presence. All comparisons aside, can anyone discount Mickey's performances and abilities and heart. Unique actors do exist and Mickey is one of them. My curiosity is extreme, first to enjoy Mickey's performance (he has never failed), then to partake of an indie director's talents when mainstream films have become so lifeless and shallow.

sue on Oct 30, 2008


The Fountain was an amazing movie... I actually cried when I saw it the first time. Completely beautiful and unexpected.

Ryan on Nov 13, 2008

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