Darren Aronofsky has returned with his fourth feature and the results are an engaging, sad, and fantastic character study anchored by a fantastic performance by Mickey Rourke.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was “The” wrestler back in 1986. Working his way through the ranks, The Ram made his way to the top of the professional circuit, peaking at his Madison Square Garden sell out with The Ayatollah. Flash forward ten years later, still wrestling, now at legion halls and gymnasiums, The Ram is the class of his local circuit, though quite a fall from the ranks he once held. Still getting his own dressing room and being the top bill, it’s good enough to get him through the day. The finances aren’t quite cutting it though, and he has to pick up extra shifts at the grocery store in between wrestling on the weekends and visits to the local strip club to chat up Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) over beers. Though, events lead Randy to question his lot in life, and seek out his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) in an attempt to make peace with his past.
Aronofsky creates a gritty and realistic world that nails the world of professional wrestling. From down and out geezers, to the staging of the match, and the small time venues, everything feels real and authentic and adds a bit of sadness in that this is all Randy has left. This film is a bit more reserved and less stylish then Aronofsky’s last two films, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t wow with the camera. A couple of extended takes and steady cam shots really stand out, and the way Aronofsky parallels Randy’s real life job to his ring job was a great bit in my mind.
The story isn’t terribly new or original, an almost washed up vet trying to come to grips with his station in life, but the wrestling setting, and the nature of the profession magnifies circumstance and consequences of Randy’s decisions and you can’t help but get behind him as he is forced to change. The films pacing is fantastic, with nary a dull moment and the filmmakers strike the perfect balance of drama, humor, and action in the film to have a little bit of something for everybody. Though, fair warning, there is one fight scene that is not for the squeamish; two words, staple gun.
The story is solid and the film expertly made, but it’s the work by Rourke people will be writing home about. This is the perfect role for him, well maybe this and Marv from Sin city, and he owns the character to the extent you can’t imagine anyone else in it. From his physique to the way he carries himself and act, it just works on every level. He loves glam metal, girls, and drinking, stuck in a time warp as he bashes on Kurt Cobain for ruining the fun, Rourke just nails it. Then once in the ring, he captures our imagination on that end to. He feels like a star we would route for, and Rourke brings Randy to life when he puts on those pads, pounding them on the way to the ring. Rourke sucks you in and you can’t help but give in, it is one of the better turns this year and he deserves all the Oscar hype he is getting. Not to be forgotten though are the ladies of the film. Maria Tomei finds a way to get naked again in a role, and she still looks great, but she also brings sweetness to her character in the way she gets along with Randy and also showing her desire to be more in life then a stripper. Both she and Rourke perfectly capture the moving past their prime professionals in fields that definitely should have a self life for people. Evan Rachel Wood also does a fine job as Randy’s daughter, and while her time is short, and arc a bit rushed, she makes the most of her time and stands up to the quality of her counterparts in the film.
In the end, The Wrestler is sure to become a classic sports film while also being an excellent character study of a man moving past his prime. Rourke leads a great set of actors while delivering one of the best performances of the year. Aronofsky can also chalk another winner up on his record and has continued to show diversity in his abilities. Go see The Wrestler if you are a fan of the sport, great drama, sports films, or if you want to see one of the better films of the year.