Saturday, April 18, 2009

"The Wrestler"


We've seen a few movies over the last little while that I'd like to talk about, in theatres, one on DVD.  We saw "Watchmen" in regular theaters and IMAX, "Coraline" in digital 3D, and "The Wrestler" on disc.  

Seeing "The Wrestler" in theatres was tough to do, because it just wasn't there long.  It's a small budget movie, from auteur director Darren Aronofsky, and I was especially interested to see his work because he's doing the "RoboCop" reboot next.  "Robo", at least the first film, is one of my favorite all time movies.  I doubt it can be made as good as Paul Verhoeven's version, where he had his own stamp on satire and dialogue with ultra-violence blended in so seamlessly.  

Mickey Rourke's Randy 'the Ram' Robinson is a mirroring of his own life, I don't know if it was intentional on the writer's part or not.  Rourke's had a tough life after some modest success in the 80s with films like "9 1/2 Weeks", "Wild Orchid" and most recently with "Sin City".  Hollywood's basically left him for dead for the most part as an actor though, and seeing Randy trudge through life in this movie, as a wrestler who was once on top of the world but has come crashing down and is just trying to make ends meet and maybe get his life back together, it's a heartbreaking tale to follow, for sure.  

Being a pro wrestling fan myself, I was worried what the take on this film was going to be like.  Was it going to be campy?  Were they really going to take this seriously, or were they going to make one of those old Hulk Hogan or John Cena movies that have tanked or are tanking now?  Rourke threw himself into the part.  Aronofsky did a great service to wrestling fans by doing research into how the circuit works, how things are done and how the human beings underneath the characters in pro wrestling live and try to survive.  Truly, not many do survive.  A pro wrestler's life expectancy does not average beyond their 40s.  "The Wrestler" shines a light on why this is so.

Randy is a proud character.  He's a humbled one, but proud.  He takes his profession seriously, even if some of those around him don't, most markedly the boss he works for at a supermarket where he takes a job at the deli section.  The guy constantly chides him and belittles him because he's in the position of power where Randy needs the job he has, so he doesn't contest him.  Until later on (that's the extent of spoilage here).  Living in a trailer park where he has a hard time keeping up with the bills, to the extent where he's locked out of his own mobile in the beginning of the film, you see Randy as a gentle kind of everyman who's down on his luck and fights just to stay alive.  Literally.  He takes wrestling gigs in tiny halls where hardly anyone shows up to see the shows.  You see him at an autograph session that has no turnout.  It's wrenching to see him go through it all, and when you see him struggling to win back the love of his estranged daughter, it ultimately hammers home the levels his desperation will drive him to, to reclaim success and love in his life that seemingly is lost forever.  He does find hope in love in a stripper played by Marisa Tomei, but she keeps him at arms length for the most part, despite his efforts to win her over.  In the climax when we see what matters to him the most in his life, we learn how little he trusts anyone, and indeed how much he hates himself, but longs to be "the Ram".

A number of wrestlers saw this movie, and pretty well all of them loved it.  The only one who really didn't think much of it was Vince McMahon,  czar of the WWE himself, but the guy's sensitive to anything or anyone that puts wrestlers in a bad light anyway.  The show's a good watch, but doesn't have any of the Hollywood trappings of a music score or sticky sweet moments that would endear itself to a massive audience.  Doesn't matter..."The Wrestler" got lots of acclaim and made a clear profit, and earned Rourke a nomination for Best Male Actor in the '08 Academy Awards.  He did win the Golden Globe for it though, for what that's worth."The Wrestler" is Good Gravy, for its brave acting and directing and uncompromising ending.


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