The Wrestler – Blu-ray Review
By Patrick Luce Apr 22, 2009, 11:28 GMT
Mickey Rourke gives the performance of a lifetime as pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a former superstar now paying the price for twenty years of grueling punishment in and out of the ring. But he’s about to risk everything to prove he has one more match left in him: a re-staging of his famous Madison Square Garden bout against “The Ayatollah.” Darren Aronofsky directs a powerful cast in this ...more
Mickey Rourke gives the performance of a lifetime in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, and makes the film have the emotional impact of a chair to the head. The actor should have won the Oscar for his work in the film, and it is impossible to dismiss his talent and dedication simply because the role mirrors that of Rourke’s own life.
The Wrestler is one of those rare movies where every element seems to work to bring what I consider to be a perfect film, and probably the best of Rourke’s long career.
Along with Rourke, the film also features standout performances from its two female leads – Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. The film also features a gritty realism thanks to Aronofsky’s direction, Robert D. Siegel’s barebones screenplay and Maryse Alberti’s cinematography.
It also features some great costume work by Amy Westcott – who dresses Rourke’s character up in a heavy coat that is held together with duct tape – and set work by Theo Sena – who shows how far Rourke’s character has fallen with his junky trailer and van.
During the opening credits, the film introduces us to Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke) – a wrestler at the top of his game. As the opening credits roll, Aronofsky uses playbills, magazine covers and newspaper articles to take us through Robinson’s career, and then drops us on Robinson waiting for his next match.
Expecting to see him go out to a cheering crowd of thousands, Robinson walks out into what appears to be a high school gym. It is clear this is not the man of the credits, but someone who is now just trying to get by on his iconic wrestling name, and perform for what fans he can. The camera follows him through a sloppy match (he is fighting a nobody and seems happy to be doing it), and then to his rundown trailer – which has been locked up due to Robinson not paying rent.
Robinson is a man who is broken down. He was on top of the world, but now wrestles in high school gyms, shows up for autograph signings at city halls, and works weekends unloading trucks at a grocery store. He seems happy enough though, and still enjoys performing for the fans.
He also enjoys going to the local strip club to watch Cassidy (Tomei) shake her moneymaker for all the guys. Cassidy’s situation is similar to Robinson. She is past her prime (in stripper years), and is having trouble getting guys to pay for a private dance. She has also fallen to working in a dive of a club. The two characters seem attracted to each other, but both carry heavy emotional baggage that gets in the way.
After Robinson suffers a heart attack (following an extremely brutal match), Cassidy suggests he try and get back in touch with his daughter Stephanie (Wood) – the only character in the film that seems to be on her way up. The first meeting doesn’t go so well, but Robinson eventually is able to charm his way into an afternoon with his daughter.
During a walk on the boardwalk, Rourke delivers some of the film’s strongest scenes with Wood. Robinson breaks down and it seems like the weight of the world comes pouring through the character and the actor. Wood holds her own in the scenes, but Rourke really shines through his quiet performance.
From there the film looks to be turning up for Robinson, but the character quickly gets slammed back down by life, and possibly the last time as he goes against medical advice to return to the ring.
Simply put, The Wrestler is a great movie (possibly the best of 2008), and features brilliant performances from its entire cast.
Rourke greatly deserved all the praise for his work in the movie and brings the character fully to life. Yes, you see how the character mirrors the actor playing him (given Rourke’s trouble with his acting career), but you also completely lose the actor in the performance.
Robinson is fierce and confident in the ring, but in life he seems a failure (with his daughter), quiet (he is great with the local kids), and completely beaten (scenes where he is reduced to tan in a spray can). He never stops trying, and never seems to let life break him.
This could easily be a one man show, but Tomei and Wood give performances that make their characters matter. Both characters are more than just people for Robinson to interact with, and Tomei shows why she once won an Oscar. Her character is almost as beaten as Robinson, but is still dreaming (she has a place she wants to go to give her son a better life).
Wood’s character is strong and independent (a trait she had to learn as Robinson abandoned her for life on the road). At times she seems cold and harsh, but Wood makes sure her reasons are clear and understandable.
Aronofsky crafted a film that feels real and believable. Some of the wrestling matches are just incredibly brutal to watch and you question why anyone would do this for a living. This realism is brought even more to life with Blu-ray’s picture. There is just enough grain to make the film feel almost documentary like (also thanks to the way the camera seems to follow Robinson from behind), but at times the film has a slick look to mirror that of the wrestling world.
The Blu-ray comes with a couple of special features, but still felt a little light for such a great film and all the award buzz it received. Within the Ring is a detailed look at the movie and what it took to bring it to the screen. Wrestler Round Table features a discussion with some wrestling legends – including Rowdy Roddy Piper, Lex Luger, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Diamond Dallas Page, and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake. This is pretty interesting at times, and sees the wrestlers talking about how accurate the film was both in and out of the ring. It also includes the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler.”
Without a doubt, The Wrestler is one of the best films I have seen in a long time, and features a career defining performance from Rourke. The film shows how hard life can be, and how hard one man can fight to pick himself back up.