Friday, January 30, 2009

The Wrestler ***1/2

The Wrestler
***1/2 out of ****

If someone had told you they were making a serious dramatic movie about professional wrestling, what would you imagine it to be like? I would imagine that it wouldn't be very good, as wrestling in movies should be limited to comedies. But leave it to auteur Darren Aronofsky to change my mind, as he has created a masterpiece about a laughable subject, and revived the dead career of his star Mickey Rourke in the process. The Wrestler plays out like a 2000's version of Rocky, with wrestling replacing boxing and a has-been replacing the underdog.
Rourke is Randy, real name Robin, stage name The Ram. Whatever you call him, he's a loser. He's a professional wrestler who was a huge celebrity in the 80's but has now lost all his fans and money. His daughter, played with biting ferocity by Evan Rachel Wood, hates him and cut him out of her life long ago. He hangs out at a strip club and has a slightly creepy realtionship with Cassidy, an aging stripper. Cassidy serves as our Adrian, although there are obvious changes between the two characters. But like Rocky kept going into the local pet store to tell jokes to Adrian, Randy goes out of his way to impress Cassidy, telling her stories of epic matches and paying her extra for personal lap dances. Cassidy is played to perfection by Marisa Tomei, who gets naked for most of her screen time but manages to do all of her acting through her face as she struggles to accept this customer as someone she may care about.
After a particularly brutal match, Randy has a heart attack and collapses in the locker room. This prompts him to retire from wrestling, at least for a little while, and starts working full time at the local supermarket. It is surprising to see him interact with people, as he has all the charm and prescence of a celebrity as he talks with compelte strangers behind the meat counter. But when someone recognizes him as The Ram from the 80s, he loses control and starts yelling, causing a huge scene.
The wrestling matches are the highlight of the film, not because they're great action sequences or similar to climactic boxing matches, but because of how bad they are. The wrestling looks very fake, because, of course, it is. We see that all of the fights are heavily choreographed beforehand and the winner chosen far in advance. The shaky camerawork helps to make the film look like a documentary, as the wrestlers who pretend to hate each other in the ring actually are very good friends who trust each other not to hurt them. There's even a joke made about how gay they all look.
This film is truly haunting because it feels so real. Randy loathes everything about himself, yet can't seem to break away from the nasty brute he knows he is deep down. In the ring is the only place where he feels alive and has purpose. Even Cassidy is seen getting rejected by younger men, and the strange hurt on her face lets us know that she and Randy are cut from the same cloth, yearning to leave but unable to. This is an exceptional film that will find its place in history next to the Italian Stallion.
I would recommend this film to people who like dramas, violent sports movies, and of course, wrestling.

You can watch the trailer here:

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