In the 80s, Randy 'The Ram' Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a champ wrestler; 20 years later he is making a meager living doing menial work and a few high school gym fights for diehard fans. Yet for all its bruising, bloody nature, the ring gives The Ram the only peace of mind he can find. His estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) has given up on him, and the budding romance he thinks he has going with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), the stripper at a bar he frequents, is not going. When he has a heart attack, he needs to be sensible and retire from the ring. He tries - but his heart's not in it.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice (2008), Darren Aronofsky's wonderfully melancholy film about a man who, in the words of Bruce Springsteen's specially written theme song (The Wrestler, played over the end credits), is a one trick pony, brings Mickey Rourke back to the screen in larger than life mode, with a performance that breaks our hearts. This mountain of a man with long bleached hair is a showman of a special kind: a pro wrestler, whose theatrical tricks include self-induce cuts with a hidden razor and plenty of genuine pain. But in the ring, this pain is easily bearable compared to the pain he experiences outside, when his estranged daughter rejects a late attempt at fatherly attention.
Alone and getting older, with the threat of working as a deli hand in a supermarket, The Ram realises that he has no choice but to be who he is, to do what he does, to live - and if necessary die - as he has lived; anything else is not living.
Mickey Rourke draws on all his own demons (whatever they may be) to absorb Randy as a character who does not so much feel sorry for himself as sorry for what he has done or not done. He's proud of everything he's done in the ring, though, and that's why he feels better there than anywhere else, despite the pain and the battering.
Marisa Tomei is supporting a son by working at a bar selling private dances in her G string. She has to keep the customers at arms length, but Randy manages to slip through her defences, if only briefly before she rejects him, much to his sorrow. But when Randy has a heart attack, he becomes tangibly vulnerable, and she begins to allow herself some feelings for this lost soul. Tomei is moving herself as another loner trying to survive, and Aronofsky keeps the film's tone ferociously unsentimental as the realities begin to bite.
Brutal but honest, beautiful in a terrible way and unexpectedly moving, The Wrestler is everything a serious movie lover could want.
Review by Louise Keller:
The film belongs to Mickey Rourke as a washed up wrestler whose entire life is a mess, but still revolves around the ring. It's a brave performance and one that heralds a return to the limelight for an actor whose private and personal life has been on the skids. It is also the kind of performance that wins awards - and deservedly so. Rourke's portrayal of Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is at times difficult to watch, yet it is so compelling, it is impossible to look away. Director Darren Aronofsky, whose choice of projects has varied enormously over the past few years, tells this ugly yet poignant story with the veracity of a documentary.
The film begins by showing us a board filled with newspaper clippings that reflect a career in the ring. But now it is 20 years later and times have changed. Rourke's Randy still has the trademark straggly long blonde hair (that gets stuck in the blood, sweat and tears), but now his life is somewhat different. But Randy's entire life still seems to be about fighting. There are unresolved emotions issues with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and a sense of angry longing with Marisa Tomei's single mum pole dancer who spends most of the film wearing next to nothing. Tomei is especially good.
The film takes us into the world of this lost and lonely man, whose only joy is spent in the ring. Some of the wrestling scenes - involving broken razors, stapling machines, false legs and barbed wire - are gruesome, while others - as he serves customers in the deli section of the supermarket - are hilarious. And there's emotional pain - between father and daughter and the woman with whom he wants to form a relationship. Much has been said about Rourke's rocky personal life and how amateur boxing played a part. Although he was not Aronofsky's first choice for the role, it is impossible to imagine anyone else who would be better suited and his performance is a total triumph; one that is a potent a knock-out as Aronofsky's attention grabbing film.
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WRESTLER, THE (MA)
CAST: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller,
PRODUCER: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin
DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky
SCRIPT: Robert D. Siegel
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Maryse Alberti
EDITOR: Andrew Weisblum
MUSIC: Clint Mansell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tim Grimes
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 15, 2009