Friday, May 29, 2015

#1,747. The Wrestler (2008)

Directed By: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Tag line: "Love. Pain. Glory"

Trivia: This film reportedly moved wrestler Roddy Piper so much that he broke down and cried after a screening

Mickey Rourke's portrayal of aging wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson in Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 drama The Wrestler was lauded by critics,  and as one of the actor's longtime fans I’d like to add my voice to the praise. More than a solid performance, it was a reminder of the incredible promise Rourke showed in his early days, and proof positive that he still has plenty of greatness left in him.

A star in the 1980s, Randy the Ram has fallen on hard times, wrestling on the weekends in very small venues and supplementing his income with a part-time job in a supermarket deli. One night at a local club, he meets Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), an aging stripper who steals his heart. 

Things start to look up for Randy when, after winning a match, he is approached by a promoter looking to book a rematch between him and his old adversary, “The Ayatollah” (Ernest Miller), which, if successful, could get his career back on track. But as he’s training for this upcoming gig, Randy suffers a major heart attack, and after surgery is told that he can never wrestle again. 

Though the prospect of a forced retirement doesn’t sit well with him, Randy does what he can to make the best of it, and at Cassidy’s urging even attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), who he hasn’t seen in years. But try as he might, Randy can’t let go of the past, and despite the risk decides to go ahead with the rematch, knowing full well that doing so could cost him his life.

There isn't a scene in The Wrestler where Mickey Rourke is anything short of brilliant, from the way he handles Randy’s interactions with fans, always grateful that they still admire him, to the moment his character suffers a heart attack, bringing about the realization that what little glory he had left is now a thing of the past. Equally good are the scenes with his two main co-stars, Tomei and Wood, both playing characters with whom Randy hopes to build a lasting relationship. A sequence set on a vacant boardwalk, where Randy pours his heart out to his daughter, will bring tears to your eyes. 

More than anything, though, Rourke ensures that we, the audience, are in tune with every decision his character makes, whether it’s the right one or not. Like Randy, we realize that climbing back into the ring could kill him, yet after watching him struggle to make a life outside the sport, we know why he’s willing to risk everything to do exactly that. Randy doesn’t have much, so to give up wrestling, the one thing that reminds him of the “glory days”, is easier said than done. Yes, he could die in the ring, but without wrestling, it’s like he’s dead already.

From Body Heat to Diner, from The Pope of Greenwich Village to Angel Heart, you could always count on Mickey Rourke to give 100%, and with The Wrestler we see that he hasn’t lost a step (I also thought he was strong in Sin City, as well as Tony Scott’s unfairly savaged 2005 film, Domino). So good was Rourke’s performance as Randy the Ram that even the Academy sat up and took notice, nominating him for Best Actor, the first time he was ever up for that award.

And with all due respect to Sean Penn, who was indeed spectacular as the lead in Milk, the Oscar that year should have gone to Rourke. No question about it.


David said...

This is a movie I badly need to revisit. I remember enjoying it a great deal but I only ever watched it once.

Doc, I'm curious if you've seen the Mickey Rourke movie "Barfly" which is kind of a weird amalgam of a few of Charles Bukowski's (mainly biographical) stories. It's a movie that I seldom ever hear anyone mention and I guess it was kind of a flop but personally I think it captures the tone of its source material incredibly well and Rourke pulls off a brilliant portrayal of the infamously drunken writer.

Dell said...

This is an outstanding film. Rourke and Tomei nail it every step of the way. And that Great review.

Charlie Bury said...

I love Aronofsky's films. He really knows how to get the best out of his actors, and this is no exception. I revisited this film the other week and was blown away. I'll have to watch it again now after reading this and renewing my hunger! Thanks for the review!

James Robert Smith said...

This is one of my son's favorite movies.