Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Ernest Miller
Robert D. Siegel
Fox Searchlight, 115 min., Rated R
**** (out of ****)
Yep, THE WRESTLER lives up to its hype. And this is coming from a dude who had zero interest in the flick, and it's not due to actor Rourke, but more director Aronofsky who left me befuddled with THE FOUNTAIN (I think I must be really stupid - I thought I understood everything up until the last two minutes, then all my theories obliterated into nothingness), but he redeems himself here, more or less emulating (and at times surpassing) the awesome style of Alfonso Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN, specifically). Another thing going against the film: I have no interest in wrestling. Zilch. Nada. I think it's dumb, and the bits I see when switching the channels on 29 and the Sci-Fi Channel doesn't swade me to thinking it's worthwhile. And concerning Rourke, I have nothing against the dude. I've only ever seen him in SIN CITY, so it's not like I know much about him (aisde from drug crap). But all that side, I can safely say THE WRESTLER is a movie you definitely owe it to yourself to see, because it is fantastic. Hell, the flick even nudged its way into my top 10 of 2008 (despite its not being widely released until January 2009, but whatevs).
Randy (Rourke) used to be known as The Ram, only the biggest name in the wrestling-world. His life as a wrestler pretty much consumed all other lifely duties, such as being a father for his daughter (Wood). Living alone in a trailer park, payday-by-payday, with his only real 'friend' (and the term is loosely used here) being one of the strippers (Tomei) at a local joint, Randy feels a little empty, but attempts to fill that void with his lower-key wrestling tournaments. But a near-fatal heart-attack at a game suddenly forces Randy to re-evaluate the important things in life, and attempts to reconnect with the things he's lost, and to quit something that has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. The wrestler is in his blood, and despite the probability of death if he plays again, Randy the Ram just can't stand not being that man.
35 minutes into the movie (well, coulda been longer), a group of elderly folk left the screening of THE WRESTLER. At this point, a wrestle session - er, a beat down - just ended, and Randy is tending to his many wounds; there was usage of wires, windows, metal chairs, hitting objects and a ladder in this beat down, so you can imagine there's quite a bit of owage going on. I'm guessing the mass amounts of blood that's already been shown, and with the addition of half-naked strippers, wasn't all that appealing to these folk. I bring this up because this film doesn't sugar-coat any of the finer details. It's a very exact, very documentary style-ish movie.
Since the film's style has already been raised, I might as well start off with Darren Aronofsky's direction, which is simply splendid. Filmed entirely hand-held, to create a sense of reality and perhaps constant motion (or as to fully emulate the documentary feel, by having a camera following this wrestler dude and see what happens), the device is used brilliantly. The very first scene has Rourke coming home to his trailer park and finding his door locked, and he walks over to the landowner; the entire sequence is shot from behind Rourke as the camera follows him. This is similarly used when the Ram prepares himself to go out to stage in a tracking shot from behind the curtains, to him readying himself, and finally to him exiting; this is later used when Rourke performs the same tasks, but readies himself to walk out into his new job at the Delhi. Those three particular shots have resonated with me the most, the last two especially as they sum up the character of Randy without any dialogue. In summation, beautiful cinematography (without it being apparent), and additionally, fantastic editing. It's about as perfect as you can get.
The screenplay is also about as perfect as you can get. The dialogue rings true, and the events of the story ring true. Every beat is great. Actually, the best thing that can be said about the script is that it seems like there is no script; it takes a moment to realize you watched a scripted, acted feature film, and not a documentary of some sort. That's a wonderful testament to the wonderful jobs of everyone involved in the production.
As I mentioned above, I don't know much about Mickey Rourke other than his SIN CITY stint, so I'm not going to be championing this as his "comeback" or anything of the sort, but I will say Rourke completely sold the role. It may be because he simply channeled his own emotions from life experience (since the two are nearly indistinguishable, I hear), or he's just a really good, really dedicated method actor, but Rourke kicks all sorts of ass here, and not just in the actual kicking of the ass, but as in a metaphor for his performance...just thought I'd clear that up. Anywho, yes indeed, Rourke is The Man in THE WRESTLER.
I don't know what to make of Marisa Tomei; I haven't seen her in too many movies, but the one I most remember her from is last year's BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, in which she bares pretty much everything, and in this flick, she barely leaves some clothing on. Is this a sign that her career isn't going any higher or what's the deal? Alright, nudity aside, Tomei grabs you. You care for her character, and you're touched when she takes up Randy's offer to help him pick out a gift for his daughter. It also helps that Rourke and Tomei appear to have terrific chemistry. Speaking of daughters, Randy's daughter is played by Evan Rachel Wood, and for the ten or thirteen minutes of screentime she has, she's quite good. Now I'm a little iffy on how their relationship concludes because it's been done so many times before, but it rings true to what this type of movie is, and sets up the finale perfectly, and for that, it can be forgiven. I bring that up because Wood takes what could very well have been an irritating aspect of the movie, and turned it into a emotional roller-coaster where the viewer is as torn up as Rourke and Wood during their final sequence. Good stuff.
Well, I can't think of anymore praise I can possibly give the film (there's probably more, but I'm at a loss right now). Essentially, the movie is pretty much about as perfect as you can get. Every aspect of the flick, from script to screen, is bloody brilliant. If and when you have a chance to catch THE WRESTLER, take it; it's as simple as that. The film deserves the recognition and credit it's receiving, and that's a rare thing these days.