Last Sunday we went to see The Wrestler, the movie about a washed up pro wrestler named Randy the Ram. The movie has had a strong buzz due to the comeback of Mickey what-happened-to-your-face Rourke. Directed with almost documentary style realism by Darron Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), The Wrestler literally follows The Ram as he plays the low level indie circuit of ball rooms and school gyms for measly pay days in between gym runs, steroid shots and his part time job at a supermarket. In the 80's, The Ram headlined major matches in big Arenas. Now he gets by just barely, living in squalor while trying to hold on to his remaining shreds of former glory.
Of course the question on every one's mind is Mickey Rourke: is he really good this time? Well the answer is yes, Rourke delivers the goods. He gives Randy The Ram a lived in feel of a guy who's been to the top and felt every kick on the way back down. His Wrestler lives for the business, for the smattering of remaining fans and brotherhood of wrestlers who still respect him. The Ram has a quiet pride when he's in his element and a sense of stifled desperation when he's out of it. Early in the film Randy gets bad news from the doctor - he can't wrestle anymore. Rourke captures the feel perfectly of The Ram's awkward attempts to adjust to a normal life with a regular job, making amends with his estranged daughter and trying to capture the attention of his favorite stripper.
Marisa Tomei also makes a comeback as the stripper Cassidy. Her character parallels The Ram, a little too old for headline status of her profession. But where The Ram holds on desperately, Cassidy shrewdly looks for opportunities to get out to a different life. She has a good connection with Randy and seeing them together will make you listen to Ratt in a whole different way. Finally Tomei delivers a performance that will quiet all the naysayers who said her Best Actress Oscar was undeserved.
Aronofsky's direction is real fly-on-the-wall stuff, the camera follows The Ram to the point that you see Rourke from behind almost as much as his front. When Rourke walks somewhere, the camera trails shortly framing the back of his shoulders and head just like you see on reality television. All the while he places the characters in a gritty, overcast and cold setting to enhance the mood.
Being a wrestling fan it was hard not to be happy with the fun of watching staged fighting and all the blood and pain that goes with it. Even in the ring the camera sits up close, giving new appreciation for the bumps and body slams these guys take on a weekly basis. The wrestling characters were well constructed, Rourke does some decent moves and is given a fantastically over the top finishing move with the top rope dive called a Ram Jam. His chief opponent, The Ayatollah, is clearly based on the famous Iron Sheik right down to the Camel Clutch.
It all adds up to a strong movie, The Wrestler puts you in a choke hold and doesn't let go. It's the life of a pro wrestler just as you imagined it, the film is very reminiscent of the documentary Beyond the Mat (1999) in its approach and themes. The main character is a composite of grapplers past and present, sort of like if Shawn Michaels lived Jake The Snake's life in a watered down way. How many more cliche's can I squeeze in? The Wrestler is a good flick, and that's the bottom line 'cause Mr Mike said so!