The Wrestler


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

The Wrestler
"An instant classic that’s more than worthy of all the lavish praise it’s been getting."

Though Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was once a champion-calibre professional wrestler, his glory days are well behind him. Now doing small shows and working part-time at a local grocery store, health problems force him into retirement and so he decides to attempt life outside the ring by romancing a stripper (Marisa Tomei) he likes and reconciling with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). However, the offer of a re-match with a former rival gives him one last shot at stardom.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the plot of The Wrestler sounds a lot like that of the last Rocky movie because, well, it is. We’ve got a likeable former-fighter whose also a flawed father. We’ve got a worn-out athlete who wanders the poor parts of his beloved city reminiscing about past glories. We’ve also got that final chance at redemption. In fact, for those unsure of what to expect here, just imagine Rocky Balboa done arthouse-style with plenty of rock tunes and a diatribe on the ills of Kurt Cobain and you’re almost there.

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Of course, while Stallone’s last outing as the Italian Stallion pleasantly pleased fans and surprised critics, Darren Aronofsky’s trip inside the ring is an instant classic that’s more than worthy of all the lavish praise it’s been getting. A complete change of pace from the uncomfortably intense Requiem For A Dream and the time-transcending love odyssey The Fountain, here Aronofsky crafts a beautiful motion picture that is undeniably bittersweet, unexpectedly witty and surprisingly inspiring.

And for those viewers who own a Hulk Hogan greatest matches video and knew who The Rock was before The Mummy Returns, the wrestling is handled superbly. Not quite a love-letter yet never close to belittling it, Aronofsky takes us inside this interesting, contradictory world showing us the level of damage a ‘fake’ sport can cause the body and how guys who tear each other to bits (it might not be a genuine fight but the staple guns and glass windows are real) share a friendly beer afterwards. For anyone thinking about getting into the sport, forget the textbook moves, you’ll first need hair peroxide, a razor for your armpit (and head come to think of it) and a witty moniker.

Shot naturally and low-key with lots of long handheld tracking shots (cinematographer Maryse Alberti is known for documentaries), there’s also a lovely reality created. Watching Rourke striding through doorways, behind the scenes at the supermarket where he works and out from backstage at a match, it’s sometimes quite easy to forget your watching a movie and assume you’re watching camcorder footage left over from a has-been former mat-king.

Though Tomei does well, elevating a potentially clichéd role into something more (while showing more flesh than Randy sees at his deli counter), The Wrestler belongs 100 per cent to Mickey Rourke. A big star back in the day who alienated people before falling from grace, Rourke draws on years of bad decisions and psychological scars to fashion a character smacking of career-mirroring truth while giving a towering performance that’s likely the comeback Sin City should have been and easily the pinnacle of his career. Will he get nominations? Definitely. Will he win an Oscar? You can bet your Nintendo Entertainment System.

A critical acclaim-magnet that plays like an inspired blend of Rocky Balboa, Raging Bull and the Ultimate Warrior, The Wrestler takes your emotions and piledrives them from the top of a steel cage onto a folded chair. Much like its leading man, it might not be the prettiest about, but there’s plenty of life underneath.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2009
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The Wrestler packshot
An ageing wrestler tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, but can he get the ring out of his soul? Plus read what Aronofsky, Rourke and Tomei said about .
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Read more The Wrestler reviews:

Amber Wilkinson *****
Chris **

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Writer: Robert D Siegel

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Rachel Evan Wood, Vale Anoai, Angelina Aucello, Todd Barry, Olivia Baseman, Gregg Bello, Alyssa Bresnahan, Vernon Campbell, E.J. Carroll, Felice Choi, Rebecca Darke, John D'Leo

Year: 2008

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US


New York 2008

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