The Wrestler

Director : Darren Aronofsky

Writer : Robert D. Siegel

Starring : Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.

Mickey Rourke in an interview once expressed how upset he was that his role for Terence Malick in The Thin Red Line (1998) did not make the final cut because it was probably the best acting he had ever done. The controversial 56 year old Hollywood veteran earned his first Academy Award nomination for all to witness this time and has since said ;

“When I read the story and then met Darren Aronofsky I knew he was going to make me go to some dark places and it would be painful emotionally and physically. But I’m so glad I did it because it is the best work I’ve done in the best film of my career.”

The judges are unanimous as the evidence is irrefutable. Rourke fully immerses himself into the role as Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson – a legendary 1980’s wrestler who is now a washed up, beaten up, broke man decades past his prime. He works part time in a supermarket to cover his bills and gets in the ring on the weekends for a little extra cash – which by all accounts should be highly paid with some of the ‘arranged’ stunts / traumas wrestlers have to endure.

Outside work and his love of the sport, he yearns to have a relationship with his beloved local stripper Cassidy (Tomei, utterly convincing) and tries to reconcile with his daughter (Wood, who is well cast and intense) but realises that wrestling and his fans are the only thing that will ever love him. This is epitomised near the end in a scene with Cassidy, who tries to stop him going back in the ring after a near fatal heart attack but Randy sums it up for her – “My heart ?… The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don’t give a shit about me.”

Established Hollywood film maker Darren Aronofsky refuses to use the same style and techniques as each of his films are shot and edited differently. This time he opts for a low budget, raw and naturalistic approach, using real wrestlers and the use of a hand held camera. Does it work ? Does Aronofsky pull off the almost documentary film he is trying to make ? To a certain extent he does but his choices of where to place the camera throughout seem odd and are questionable. The wrestling scenes however are filmed with flair – in particular the second one, with a stylish flashback structure.

The documentary Beyond The Mat (1999) is a huge inspiration in the making of this movie. There is also a nice touch with homage paid to Taxi Driver (1976), for one scene as we see Randy with one of those people who ‘can get you anything’ – but this time substituting guns for steroids before then being offered everything from prescription drugs to cocaine. Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) went through the same process in the Martin Scorsese cult hit.

Essentially though it is the performance’s that glue this film together – take nothing away from Sean Penn but this year’s decision at the Oscars for best actor may go down in history as a ‘movie crime’.

SUPERIOR SCENE : A sign of real talent in a male actor is one who can cry convincingly on screen. Whilst trying to make peace with his daughter, Randy talks from the heart and shows real emotion – with terrific dialogue – ending with a tear. Rourke did this to similar effect in a brief 3 minute scene in The Pledge (2001).

QUALITY QUOTE : “If you live hard and play hard and you burn the candle at both ends, you pay the price for it. You know, in this life you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you.” Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (Mickey Rourke).

RATING : 3.5 / 5 stars.

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

  • Martyn Conterio 11th March 2009

    I enjoyed The Wrestler but not sure Darren Aronofsky is such a great filmmaker. And a lot of people got axed from The Thin Red Line…which is a great shame.

  • Trevor Smith 11th March 2009

    Thanks for the comments Martyn. I am with you – he is certainly not a ‘great’ film maker yet. I could really see what he was trying to do with The Wrestler but it didn’t quite gel together.. And i have been living in hope of Malick bringing out a ‘Director’s Cut’ of The Thin Red Line – it would be like winning the Lottery for me !

  • Martyn Conterio 11th March 2009

    Recently Malick re-cut The New World for a dvd release…I am hoping he’d do the same for Red Line as it is a flawed masterpiece…that feels incomplete…he shot millions of feet of footage…so its all their in somebody’s archives!

  • Sledge 11th March 2009

    Malick’s The Tree Of Life should be truly wonderful, whenever it’s finished …

  • Trevor Smith 13th March 2009

    The New World was like watching paint dry BUT at least it was beautiful paint.. Malick is so artistic and unquestionably a genious… The Tree of Life is released this year and he is using Sean Penn again – brilliant.

    And in case you didn’t know, Aronofsky’s next film is The Fighter – a boxing movie this time with Mark Wahlberg… Then he is doing the re-make of Robocop. I believe these two movies will define him as a film maker.

  • Sledge 13th March 2009

    Yes, The Fighter.

    Should be good I think !

  • Martyn Conterio 14th March 2009

    Robocop? Why re-make a perfect film? I thought The New World was amazing…people should note the influence of the philosopher Martin Heidegger on Malick’s work…viewed threw that prism…his work becomes very interesting…more so than just pretty cinematography.

  • Trevor Smith 14th March 2009

    I agree Robocop is one of the great action flicks of all time.. So it is a great test of Aronofsky’s ability… Thanks for the tip on the philosopher – will look into it. I am guessing on what you mean is, it has a big influence on what he portrays on screen…?

    And just for the record, i was also referring to his writing. Malick is hugely talented in this area – something some of the big film makers do not possess.


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