The last film director Darren Aronofsky set out to make, The Fountain, the film went through developmental hell. When it finally released, we here at The Torch ripped into the film with sharp claws. Aronofsky is back with a much lower-scale film about a broken and beaten down wrestler from yesteryear. But unlike the previous effort, The Wrestler is a fantastic film that taps into deep emotions with a stellar performance from Mickey Rourke.
Rourke stars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. In the mid to late ’80s, Ram was at his prime. He was a marquee name that brought the big crowds out to the arena. Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” blasts through the speakers to introduce him when not blaring over the airwaves. Ram has the belts, the endorsements, the toys and the success.
But this isn’t the Ram the audience sees. Instead, Ram is a backend grocery store worker who spends his weekends “sitting on other dudes’ faces,” as his boss so eloquently puts it. His wrestling provides him with some quick cash to come up with the rent for his run-down trailer. A lot of his money goes towards pills and other supplements to keep him from falling apart because the bandages only go so far. He’s estranged from his daughter and the only person he is relatively close to is a stripper named Cassidy (a lively Marisa Tomei).
If there was only one person who could pull this role off, it would be Mickey Rourke. His rocky past has set him up well for this part, so it extends beyond physicality. The character of Ram is a depressing one, but his problems suck viewers in to care about him. Within the film’s world, people care about him if only on a surface level. He’s a relic to his New Jersey community and even after a debilitating injury sidelines him, they continue to support him.
It is that injury that sets up the point of the film and gives Ram a little hope for his life, and eventually get him to seek glory in the ring once more. He does not quite close the generation gap between himself and the fans. There is a great scene with some video games that exemplify that. Tomei’s character of Cassidy plays well off of Ram and fits perfectly along side him. Her age parallels Ram’s issues, as her career as a stripper does not agree with her age.
Of course, all of this is made possible with great direction and writing. Aronofsky returns to form with this project. Fans of his older works like Requiem for a Dream and Pi might be put off by the subject matter of wrestling. But once you get into the film it is clear the film is not about wrestling as much as it is amount a very real character. In almost every aspect of this film, Arnofsky has done a great job behind the camera.
And Robert Siegel has done a fantastic job on the script. Formerly of The Onion, Siegel’s comedy background shines through in the film but he absolutely nails down the dramatic elements. It is the mixture of comedy and drama that makes The Wrestler feel like a real life situation.
With all the Oscar buzz surrounding films like Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the like, it is easy to overlook an independent project. But this project is a gem and should not be passed up.