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‘The Wrestler’ movie review

January 10, 2009   ·   0 Comments

The Wrestler movie posterI have been a fan of Mickey Rourkes ever since I watched the excellent Angel Heart many years ago. When Rourke was cast in Sin City a few years back I hoped the big role would be a sign of things to come, a victorious comeback for a top 80s talent. His turn as Marv in the cult classic was memorable but the offers seemingly didnt come flooding in.

Rourkes performance as grizzled veteran wrestler Randy The Ram Robinson has been hailed by many as his greatest ever performance and Im inclined to share that view. The parallels between actor and character are uncanny. Both have tasted fame and former glory, both have made bad choices in life and both seem to be chasing one last chance to prove they are a drawing power in their chosen profession.

Rourke looks the part throughout the movie. He definitely got into shape for the role and he looks like a veteran wrestler. Unless the camera work is deceiving, it appears that Rourke is convincing in the ring. Footage of matches show him looking slick in his execution of moves, he delivers his wrestling terminology dialogue convincingly and you believe in the wrestler side of the character.

Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood)It is only fair, however, that we move away from the profession of Randy Robinson for a moment as the character is so much more than that. Sylvester Stallone has often described Rocky Balboa and the movies that showcased his life as a character study of a person who just happened to be a boxer. The Wrestler is a character study of a person who just happens to be a professional wrestler. The story is not driven by professional wrestling per se. It is driven by a story that sees us following a man who is witnessing the most important part of his life slipping away from him. The Ram only knows how to be a wrestler. He knows his time is coming to an end and he knows there is nothing he can do about it. Losing what is important to him makes him evaluate some of the choices he has made. When The Ram seeks a ghost from his past in the shape of daughter Stephanie, played superbly by virtual unknown Evan Rachel Wood, we see that the love and adulation he experiences in the small arenas he frequents is not shared by his own flesh and blood.

Woods role is a small one but the relationship between the pair is a key part of the story and arguably the jug from which the movies emotion is poured from. The larger role of Cassidy the stripper, played by the underrated Marisa Tomei, mirrors The Rams feelings and frustrations. Cassidy is losing her way in her chosen career as younger rivalsprove more popular with customers.Tomei’s characterseems to grow more despondent but more accepting of this as the story continues. Her friendship with The Ram becomes complex and uneasy as the movie develops but the big hearts of both characters are plain to see from start to finish.

As Im reviewing this movie on a wrestling website, its only fair that I return to the wrestling aspects of the piece. There are some standout moments for wrestling fans. I personally related to the scene where The Ram and a colleague go shopping for hardcore props. Working shows over the years I have heartily laughed at some of the outrageous props brought back from the local hardware store to be used in the evenings main event and this scene shows the twisted logic and insane creativity of a pro wrestler. The story keeps the wrestling element as real as possible.Ironically, this I mean it openly shows wrestling as being not real. It shows scenes of opponents planning matches and post match reactions from peers.The movie is honest about how the business worksand it doesn’t undermine the legitimacy of the ‘fake’ world of pro wrestling.Non-wrestling fans watching the movie (both of them) will hopefully understand from The Wrestler that although wrestling is pre determined, it is very, very hazardous and the pain and injuries are as genuine as Mickey Rourkes portrayal of The Ram.

Like any wrestling fan I recognised some of the wrestlers used as supporting characters and extras and like any wrestling fan I scoured the credits to see who I had missed. The likes of Austin Aries, The Blue Meanie, Claudio Castagnoli and Ron Killings feature in very minor roles; some spoken, some physical. Wild Samoan Afa Anoai trained Mickey Rourke for the role and with the likes of solid workers such as Billy Kidman and Chris Kanyon on his training CV, its understandable why Rourke pulls off a convincing turn as a veteran wrestler who main evented Madison Square Garden in his prime.

Mickey Rourke in action as The RamBefore I made that assessment I thought we were going to see very little of Rourke in action when the movie skips a brutal match. Viewers witness Rourke and his opponent planning their spots then we are rushed to the aftermath of the bloody battle. A few disappointed moments later the movie cuts back to 14 minutes earlier and we are treated to the culmination of an intense hardcore contest. The fact that this is presented in movie form, skipping things like the setting up of a ladder, adds pace and excitement to the action and showcases Rourkes aforementioned wrestling ability.

True wrestling fans will buy into the wrestling aspects of the movie. You can virtually smell the sweat in the small venues, you want to chant along in appreciation of a legend, you worry about the health of a worker after a holy $h!t moment. Director Darren Aronofsky pulls wrestling fans into a convincing wrestling related movie and writer Robert D. Siegel has penned an excellent story with realistic,sympathetic characters. Arguably more importantly to wrestling fans, Siegeland Aronofsky accurately depict the independent pro wrestling scene.

True movie fans should not shy away from this because it is about a wrestler. This is a marvellous movie about a man struggling to find his place in the world when everything he knows and holds dear threatens to leave him behind. Rourke is on fantastic form and has rightfully been nominated for a Golden Globe for his outstanding performance. Rumours of a villainous role in Iron Man 2 are already doing the rounds and while The Ram may never find his way back to the top of the wrestling mountain, Rourke has every chance of making a comeback so emphatic that it would rival anythinga balding man in red and yellowcould offer after a beat down from Andre the Giant in a WrestleMania main event.


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