The Wrestler

The Wrestler

Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)
Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use
Appropriate for ages 18+

    Mickey Rourke is Randy “the Ram” Robinson, a popular professional wrestler from the 80s that is still trying eek out a living in the ring, despite the fact that his life, his career, and his body have fallen apart.

    There is a day for most kids where Saturday morning cartoons and Sesame Street have grown old and you are looking for something to fill the gap.  For me that gap was filled with professional wrestling.  Even though we only had 7 channels on TV, wrestling was on enough for me to get my fix.  Between Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Junk Yard Dog, Randy Savage, and others, I couldn’t wait to see the soap opera of athletes.  Now, many years later, wrestling has changed completely, and those previously mentioned stars (with the exception of the smart businessman Hogan), are gone from the public eye.  I’d like to think that they didn’t follow the path of our fictional hero “The Ram,” but upon discussing these wrestlers with Director Darren Aronofsky recently over pizza before an advance screening of the wrestler, my fears were confirmed.  One by one we discussed all of the names we remembered, and his research showed very similar stories, in tone, for them all.  It’s a tough sport, which requires heavy damage upon the body, both in physicality and the drugs they all have to take to keep the muscles looking abnormally large. 

    So watching this film with all of my childhood memories and current concerns thrown in the blender, I couldn’t help but get pulled into what could have been the life of my one-time heroes.  The bittersweet drama of a story here is as close to perfect as you can get.  Whether you are watching him try to get something started with a local stripper (Tomei) or trying to mend a relationship with his neglected daughter (Wood), you can’t help but get a sense of authenticity from this tale.

As for the acting – it really is as good as they are saying.  Rourke has been doing nothing but horrible films and throwaway roles for years (with the exception of Sin City) and this movie proves that the talent is still there.  In my conversation with Darren, he scared me quite a bit when he told me that the studio didn’t want Rourke, but rather Nicholas Cage for the film.  He was so confident of Rourke that he decided to skip the studio system and make the film independently, ensuring that the cast would stay the same as he originally conceived.  Maybe it was dedication to the director that Mickey felt, or maybe it’s because he saw too much of himself in the character, but whatever it is, Rourke’s performance here is the best performance of 2008 and should give him a strong chance of taking home an Oscar. 

    Just to be fair, I want to warn everyone that this is a tough, challenging film to take in and if you feel uncomfortable with watching a man become very self-destructive in all facets of life, then you might want to stay clear of the ring.