Monday, January 26, 2009

Review: The Wrestler

Daron Aronofsky's The Wrestler is a raw look at the world of professional wrestling that brings a similar gravity to the subject matter as Rocky did for professional boxing. The movie chronicles the struggles of Randy "The Ram" Robinson as he tries to hang on to the sport he's been immersed in for the past 20 years. Mickey Rourke (who has had a career path that almost mirrors the character he is playing) gives a very real and authentic performance in the lead role as Randy. We see the snot beat out of him time and time again as he clings to the sport he loves while trying to make ends meet financially. He deals with troubles out of the ring with his estranged daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood) and a stripper/mother (played by an often-topless Marissa Tomei) who befriends him. Throughout the movie, Rourke really embodies the role of the everyman who does what he can to make ends meet. This is a role of a lifetime for Rourke and it's either him or Sean Penn (from what I hear) who will be taking home Oscar in February. In fact, I change my previous pick of who I WANT to win Best Actor from Richard Jenkins to Rourke. He hit this one out of the park.

The highlight of this movie for me was the portrayal of the wrestling industry. People don't realize that while professional wrestlers put on an act to "stage" their fights and feign aggression and animosity towards each other in the ring, they also share a deep camaraderie backstage that the audience never witnesses. The wrestling business is like one large fraternity where even the most hated rivals in the ring can go out and celebrate a quality match at a local bar later that night. Since everything is scripted, the wrestlers need to know each others' tendencies and ring move preferences to properly pull off a perfectly choreographed match. Aronofsky lets the audience enter this backstage world of wrestling and understand everything that goes into promoting and executing a match. The depiction of the fandom associated with wrestling is also very well done. In one particular scene during a hardcore match, "The Ram" is offered to beat his opponent with a prosthetic leg from a wheelchair-bound fan. The crowd chants "USE HIS LEG, USE HIS LEG!!!" in a typical wrestling-style chant. Pretty funny and actually something that a mob of wrestling fans would do. I know this because I've been to a few WWE shows.

I particularly like the way Aronofsky shoots Rourke in most of the scenes from a camera angle positioned directly behind the actor. We see him walking to a bar, walking to his side job at the grocery store, walking out of the hospital all from the same back-of-the-head angle that we initially see when "The Ram" is making his entrance into the ring at the start of the film. This visual conveys the fact that while Randy attempts to get away from the sport and try to fit in with "the real world", he we always be viewed as a wrestler.

Overall I give this one 4 out of 5 "JRs" and the main distraction for me was the character portrayed by Tomei. I don't think enough time was spent building their relationship and as a result, the end scene did not pay off for me emotionally. How Tomei got an Oscar nomination for this role is beyond me unless the Academy is awarding her for being in amazing shape for a 44-year-old). Rourke drives the film though and it is worth seeing for his performance alone.


T. said...

I don't think I can see this movie, as I am still recovering from seeing Requiem for a Dream by the same director four years ago. I might be permanently scarred.

Jordan said...

Don't worry, there's nothing like the "ass to ass" scene from Requiem in this one. It is not nearly as disturbing. Aronofsky can get very "out there" with his work but this is pretty tame by his standards. The only really graphic scenes are the violent bits related to the hardcore wrestling match.