Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama The Wrestler (2008)

The Wrestler (2008)

The Wrestler is about Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a once well known professional wrestler who is reaching the end of his career, but is hanging on by sheer will and stubbornness because he has to, not because he wants to.  With a failing body, and no family to come home to, he finds solace in Pam (a.k.a. Cassidy) (Marisa Tomei), an exotic dancer who is also reaching the end of her career due to her age,  all the while struggling with the balancing act of being a dancer, mother, and friend.  The title transitions nicely into a metaphor for all the main characters, including Robinson’s daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), who has her own struggles with the return of an absentee father who really doesn’t know her well enough to know what to do or say.

The opening credits paint a picture of a man who was once well known, but the movie quickly shows that he is hardly living the high life that an illustrious 20 year wrestling career brings.  Barely hanging on to his own health, he gets patched up, and returns to his mobile home to call it a night only to find that he has been locked out due to his rent being late.  This painted an unglamorous image of the pro and would set the tone for the first half of the movie.  However, in spite of his current circumstances, he appears to be loved by many, which was demonstrated by the local children who wake him up the next morning by yelling out his name, “Ram”, in the effort to get him to play outside with them, which he does showing a very human side of him.  With the exception of a couple of scenes, almost everyone calls him “Ram”, reminiscent to the Rocky Balboa days where everyone called him “Champ”.  In fact, the first couple of lines uttered by “Ram” sounded almost exactly like Sly Stallone.

His professional career, now reduced to weekends for little pay, requires that he keep a part time job unloading food trucks for the local supermarket.  During his off time he interacts with Pam at the club and displays the clumsiness of a teenager with a crush when he is around her.  The character played by Tomei had less than average lines that one would expect from supporting characters, but is influential nonetheless.  After a near fatal heart attack forces him to take stock of his own life, he is encouraged by Pam to seek out his alienated daughter.  This scene was critical because it speaks to his unstable past, and the effects that it was having on him and his daughter alike; the metaphor continuing to manifest itself.

Ultimately, retiring from the ring and attempting to blend in with the rest of society, he tries to fix his relationship with his daughter; a task that proves more difficult than anything he’s ever attempted in his career.  This became very clear when he confided in his daughter that he had no one and that if he died, he did not want to die alone.  He looks like a man that is still “wrestling” (pun completely intended) with the demons of his past versus the circumstances of his current existence; at times entertaining, at other times painful to watch (not unlike a good wrestling match).  The world he knew, that consisted mostly of avid fans, steroid use and pain killers, did not transition well into the normal day to day.  At the end he needed to decide whether to endure the struggles of normal society, or return to the only life he’s ever known setting up a finale that will leave you quietly cheering within.

Darren Aronofsky’s direction in this movie was a very interesting approach to storytelling.  He tells a story of the past by using images behind the opening credits, as well as the sounds of announcers before a match, and quickly delves into the present using a free moving camera to portray a first person view of his current life.  It’s a risky move because right out of the gates there is little dialogue, but he attempts to show how far the mighty have fallen.  There are also several references in the dialogue and music selection portraying Ram’s inability to mature with the times.   80’s hair band selections (Quiet Riot, Cinderella, and Firehouse to name a few), complimented by the unnecessary sex scene by a wrestling groupie, made it a mature adult movie for certain.  A younger crowd would not be able to follow certain dialogue references, or may take offense to the reference made of the 90’s and/or Kurt Cobain.  The movie seemed choppy at times, and required that the viewer be able to relate to him on some level in order to feel his joy, or pain.

Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of this character was right on, however it really requires that you be old enough to have experienced the 80’s to connect with him and appreciate his performance.  To his credit, for a man his age, he is in incredible shape and also portrayed his incredible range of emotions that few could pull off with such few lines.  However, there were scenes where he carried it and did not seem as fulfilling as it should have.  The chemistry between him and his daughter seemed pushed making his daughter easily forgettable.  His interaction with Marisa Tomei came across as far more believable and easier to digest.  Her involvement with his struggles made her own struggles something that almost anyone could relate to and therefore allowed the viewer to look past her risqué role selection, and appreciated her more.  The bonus was around mid-movie when you get to see Rourke sing and dance to Ratt’s, “Round-And-Round”.  It was equally as funny as it was painful to watch; once again, not unlike a good wrestling match.  The acting was great by Rourke, good by Tomei, and adequate from everyone else, but could have been better by most.

Camera Work
The free camera action, giving you an over the shoulder look at his life (most of the time) works really good to set the mood.  However, if you cannot relate to his age on some level then some scenes can come across as slow.  The still camera view was used sporadically, and was well done.  The best scene coming when there was a comparison between his past life and his current one.  Early in the movie you could see him walking through a locker room and out into the cheering crowd from over his shoulder.  Later on you can see the same action, but it was him walking through the supermarket break room onto the main customer floor behind the deli.  Accompanied by the sound effects of a cheering crowd you really get a feel that he really doesn’t know much else in life.  The scenes spoke volumes without him uttering a single word; very powerful if you can see it.

After watching this movie, I felt that the key to the movies success heavily relied on your ability to relate to him.  If you are over 35, you probably can, otherwise you will not and will have to rely on the acting alone.  Rourke’s performance was exceptional, and should merit all the credit, but I don’t believe he should have been nominated for an Oscar for it because the story line simply doesn’t support it.  However, the movie was very watchable, and should open up more roles for both Rourke and Tomei as they both entered a whole new level of maturity in their acting.  Warning:  Some scenes can be, and are very bloody, so be ready to see pain portrayed in its entire splendor. There are also some nudity, a short sex scene, and drug references that however short lived, are very graphic.

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