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The Wrestler

USA 2008
Directed by
Darren Aronofsky
109 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Wrestler

Synopsis: Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a 1980s wrestling icon is living in a trailer park, working as a supermarket storeman and on the weekends playing out the last days of his wrestling career aided by an arsenal of performance-enhancing chemicals. When he has a heart attack he decides to get his life into order. He tries to re-connect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and to start a relationship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) with whom he is friendly. Randy’s tough but is he really up to this?

Although not to everyone’s taste, being the depiction of a tawdry life, few people will demur with the overall critical enthusiasm for Darren Aronofsky's film. Aronofsky is an interesting film-maker with his previous films, Pi (1998), Requiem For A Dream (2000) and The Fountain (2006) all having their fervent fans (and in the case of the latter film in particular quite a few naysayers). The Wrestler however has bumped him into the mainstream limelight with the media making much of the homology between the fictional story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson and Mickey Rourke's real life saga. Both men were champions performers who’ve paid a heavy price for a heavy pose.

This similarity no doubt adds a dimension of interest as we watch Rourke, his face extensively “reconstructed” and his body a lumbering, battered hulk, and recall his glory days as one of the hottest young stars of the 1980s. Once compared to Dean and Brando and lauded for his Method School acting chops, he quit the Hollywood limelight to become a prizefighter and generally made mess of things before slowly clawing his way back to the movie world through bit parts in films such Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66 (1998).

So he’s got plenty of personal history to draw on for a performance that is being touted as a comeback, although that seems inlikely. Be that as it may, it is a performance well worth catching. Rourke underplays the role with the confidence of a man who needs to fake nothing. Whilst one might ask then where’s the acting, one only need to see the boardwalk scene when Randy manages to break through his daughter’s defences to appreciate how good Rourke is in bringing to life this lonely but dogged character. Opposite him, Marisa Tomei does her own fine bit of Method acting as Cassidy, a pole-dancer who realizes that she too is past her prime and needs to do something to change her life.

Although The Wrestler is in format the most conventional of Aronofsky’s films, with the relationship between Randy and Cassidy a little too pat, the director is typically empathetic but unflinching in telling his story, his overarching awareness of life’s tragic dimension permeating the film powerfully. From the opening scenes which establish Randy’s peon existence to the bleak semi-industrial suburb where he lives, from the crummy strip-joint where he goes to meet Cassidy to the sad autograph signing session in a community hall, Aronofsky finds the perfect way to bring home Randy’s marginal, rudderless life.

Sadness and humour, love and loneliness are apportioned in just the right measure in what will no doubt come to be regarded as Rourke’s most famous, and perhaps his career-best, performance.




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