The Wrestler Review: Raw Stuff
THE WRESTLER: On general release from Friday 16th January 2009
As movie pitches go, it had to have been a good one.
How many people would have really looked at the electric-hair, eye-meltingly bright spandex of an 80’s homoerotic faux-sport and thought: ‘that’s a subject just rife for award-winning deconstruction.’ When your sport’s most recognisable mascot is this man, how could you focus on anything other than parody?
While Director Aronofsky was once somewhat of a critical darling, it would be polite to call his last movie The Fountain a bit of a mis-step. Admittedly beautiful to look at, but with simply too many grand ideas fighting for attention, it was a mess. Yet with Robert Siegel’s deeply personal and intimate screenplay, The Wrestler is about as stripped back as you can get, and represents as much of a comeback for the Director as it does for its protagonist.
Mickey Rourke plays The Ram (or Randy), one of the 80’s most celebrated wrestling stars and a hero to thousands. Twenty years later however, with his fame evaporated and body failing, he’s reduced to living on a trailer park, moving boxes for cash and playing community-level wrestling at the weekends. After a serious health-scare, Randy is told that if he continues to exert similar stress on his heart, he’ll be down for the final count.
This really is a story of what happens when your purpose, everything you’ve lived for is taken away from you. Randy is a character trapped in the past, whose golden years are long behind him, but whose continuing legacy is a never-ending reminder. Fans still avidly show up for his shows, children play as his character in computer games, and people eye him in the street that one second longer than most.
Rourke is phenomenal with a tempered portrayal that effortlessly captures the essence of the retired star who’s been put through life’s eternal chokehold one too many times. He captures the flickering flame still burning behind the eyes, and the feeling that even when life looks to have counted him out, he’ll always get back up just before that final call. With Rourke’s own misfortunes widely documented, his lumbering depiction intimates a fine line between character-acting immersion and simply playing yourself.
The script is respectful but true to the mechanics of the sport. The Ram and his fellow wrestling comrades are amiable and warm to each other outside of the ring, trading tips on new moves, discussing the best way to choreograph each match and fully realising the inherent theatre of the sport. But once they get on the mat, there are no kid-gloves. With its gritty, close-up camerawork, you can practically smell the bodily juices as Aronofsky captures the surprising level of athleticism needed and the sometimes brutal realities of what goes for entertainment nowadays.
While The Wrestler addresses the traditional Aronofsky lofty concepts (fear of mortality, self-meaning and what not), its success lies in its admirably grounded mode of exploration. A must see.