THE WRESTLER

Well, I saw THE WRESTLER last night. As a fan of Darren Aronofksy, I really wanted to see this one. His previous films include PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (still his masterpiece), and THE FOUNTAIN. I’ve enjoyed every movie he’s made and when THE WRESTLER started to get Oscar buzz for Mickey Rourke’s performance, I knew it was going to be great.

And I wasn’t wrong.

Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Twenty years ago, he was at the top of his game, one of the biggest draws in professional wrestling. Now, he’s over the hill and not looking so good. And yet, he continues to wrestle, even if it’s in Veteran’s Halls and community centers. The pay isn’t what it used to be, but The Ram has his die-hard fans.

The thing is, he’s barely making ends meet. He lives in a trailer park (and still gets locked out every once in awhile for not paying his rent). During the week, he works in a supermarket lifting boxes and taking shit from his little tyrant of a boss (Todd Barry). He doesn’t have much in the way of real relationships, but he does have a stripper at a local strip joint that he’s sweet on (Marisa Tomai) and who he’d really like to have as his girlfriend, if she’ll let him into her life. He also has a college-age daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) who hates him for abandoning her as a child.

When he has a heart attack after a bout, he starts to seriously consider retiring from the ring. But he realizes fast that without wrestling, he doesn’t have much of a life.

THE WRESTLER is a somber character study about a fascinating guy. I was a big fan of Mickey Rourke’s early in his career (9 1/2 WEEKS, ANGEL HEART, and especially the Bukowski-scripted classic BARFLY), but he made too many wrong choices and disappeared for awhile. With the role of Marv in SIN CITY, he got the chance to make one helluva comback. But THE WRESTLER gives him more than just a cool character, it gives him a chance again at real respectability, and maybe even an Oscar nomination, if he’s lucky.

All of the performances are great, but Rourke is the heart of it all, and he does a terrific job. And this is a movie with a lot of things to recommend it: pathos, comedy (the scenes where Randy works in the supermarket deli are priceless), violence (the wrestling scenes are especially brutal and bloody, and they let us in on a lot of the tricks wrestlers use to make the proceedings extra gory), nudity (Tomai, who has often used body doubles in the past, finally relaxes enough to do her own nudity, and she has nothing to be ashamed of), and a really well-written story.

Aronofsky and Rourke make a great pair of collaborators. And Mickey Rourke deserves all the praise that he’s been getting for THE WRESTLER. Easily one of the best movies of 2008.

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