The Wrestler is a heartbreakingly realistic tale that provides triumph after triumph while also marking a comeback for actor Mickey Rourke.
Randy "The Ram" Robinson was a huge star in the 80's, as seen threw the amusing and original opening credits of the film. We flash forward 20 years later, and "The Ram" is old, beat up, and drained. He's working in the independent world of wrestling and seems to be doing it for passion and rental money. Having been locked out of his trailer for not paying the rent on time, Randy is a man who is in need of cash. After having a heart attack from a staple gun match gone wrong, "The Ram" is told by his doctor that he must simply retire from wrestling. Facing a mid-life crisis in the making, Randy begins to build on his relationship with his frequently visited stripper companion Cassidy (Marrisa Tomei) and reconcile a damaged bond with his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
First and foremost the real story behind The Wrestler's critical praise has been traced to the powerful performance from Mickey Rourke. He is astonishing to see on screen. Not just his acting, but his physicality in this performance is just superb. I hear he's done most of these stunts on his own, and I envy him for it. Tomei is also excellent as Pam, AKA Cassidy, who is easily the most identifiable character in Randy's life. These two share a number of great scenes together. Whether it's singing 80's songs in a local bar, picking out clothes for a teenager, or simply trying to connect to one another, Rourke and Tomei make an astounding on-screen pairing. Evan Rachel Wood is solid as Randy's teen angst daughter, but perhaps the script from Robert D. Siegel failed to put enough time into this character. Since Wood is known as a great aggressive actress, the sentimental scenes between Rourke and herself see minimal dialogue on her behalf. This was probably a wise choice, as an uneven scene between herself and Rourke could have caused a disaster.
Moreover, not only is this film a tremendous mid-life-crisis drama, but a study on the sport of professional wrestling. People who don't know too much about the wear and tear these athletes go through are going to be in for a nice surprise. There are a number of disturbing scenes that ring so true to the unjustifiably labeled "fake" phenomenon. Furthermore, the character of Randy "The Ram" is effectively painted as a sympathetic figure. His dream seems like it's gone, and he's endlessly trying to make things right in his life. Rourke displays all sorts of emotions throughout The Wrestler. Most noticeably is his regretful decisions he's made in the past. Randy's love interest Cassidy is also a layered character. She, like Randy seems to be too old for her occupation. She's finding herself a tough buy and cherishes a child at home in which she's struggling to provide for. Randy and Cassidy also can't seem to look past the 80's, revealed in wonderful emotional bar sequence, and both have jobs in which are often incorrectly labeled "fake." It's no wonder these two find each other in time of crisis.
But Randy "The Ram" doesn't play it like a slouch. He tries very much to make it without the crazed fans and wonderful reminiscing that professional wrestling brings to his grim and dark life. A scene that can carefully depict this is when Randy hears the noise of his crazed fans in his head, only to be reminded that the curtains are not an entrance to the ring, but to the depraved status of having to settle for a deli job at the supermarket. Arnofsky crafts a depressing tone that runs throughout the 109 minute run time. The script has a lot of subtle humor, which is great, but the at the heart of it, The Wrestler is indeed a sad, down hill tale. The film is wisely shot using a grainy hand-held camera, having a doc*mentary feel to the entire experience. Particularly a scene in which see's our lead and a number of faded wrestling stars at an empty autograph signing is perfectly captured by this style of film making. Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, a great film in its own right, The Wrestler has a very challenging conclusion. This makes it all the more powerful and emotionally moving. The music by Springstein is wonderfully embedded and the last ten seconds are incredibly touching.
I hope this film can find an audience, particularly in people who treat professional wrestling with disrespect. And for the people who have an appreciation for the sport, this is a great opportunity to see one of the best dramas of 2008. It's a film that questions the inevitable cruel treatment of the outside world, and how sometimes "going with your gut" so passionately put by Cassidy, may be more important than logical human survival. This is what a deep film is all about.