Most people perceive wrestlers as guys who dress in too much spandex and jump around in a square ring, pretending to hit each other until one of them gets knocked out or pinned down. While those perceptions are true, and the fight outcomes are pre- determined by the promoters, the wrestlers themselves give 110 percent to their performances as the brutal death-defying stuntmen who risk their lives every time they step into the ring. They commit to their characters to the point where everything else in their lives ceases to matter and all they want is that one big shot to be the champion.
Such things make up the subject matter of director Daren Aronofsky’s (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream”) latest film “The Wrestler” staring Mickey Rourke as Randy “the Ram” Robinson.
In this new film Aronofsky makes a bold move by abandoning all most all the stylistic camera moves and editing techniques that made him the hot independent whiz kid in the first place for much cleaner camera moves, characterized by a handheld camera and easy transitions to cut between. The result is actually better than most people would think, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Aronofsky is an extremely capable director. He has ventured out into a land of filmmaking that is both tricky because of its simplicity and bold in its delivery. He has created a piece of work that can stand on its own without resorting to sentimentality and cheesy heartfelt monologues used in typical films, or employing the old crutches of his earlier films to fall back on, like fancy camera work and in-your-face editing techniques.
To give Aronofsky all the credit, however, would be to simply miss the point because this movie would not have worked at all if Mickey Rourke hadn’t given it the best performance of his career.
Mickey Rourke has always been one of those actors existing in the shadows of other great actors in Hollywood. He has always been a great actor himself but was never given the chance to show off his true skills. He has had an unusually impressive career, nonetheless, working with other top directors such as Robert Rodriguez and Francis Ford Coppola. It seems as if he had been the rut of being a Hollywood rogue and had not been able to crawl out of that rut until now.
In the film, he plays “the Ram” as a man who has been wounded by everything in his life. His daughter hates him, his landlord constantly locks him out of his trailer when he is late with his rent and his love life is non existent at best. The only time he truly feels the love he is looking for in the world is when he is slamming guys around in the ring and being cheered on by the crowd. It is truly an impressive performance and will probably end up winning Rourke his first Oscar, as he has been nominated for one this year.
Marissa Tomei plays the stripper whom the Ram falls for throughout the film but she is never able to reciprocate the affection that he shows for her. Her performance is not quite as strong as Rourke’s but it is still very good and also worthy of the best supporting actress nomination that she got this year at the Oscar’s. Even Rachel Wood, who plays the Ram’s daughter, is the only cast member who deserves to be complained about. She overacts in every scene she is in, often relying on one of two emotions: angry or REALLY angry. The result is distracting and borders on ruining the whole film. Luckily, all of her scenes are with Rourke, so he is able to anchor them and make them work before she has the chance to do a whole lot of damage.
In the end “The Wrestler” succeeds where other movies of its kind don’t because of the sharp direction by Aronofsky and the performances of Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei. It is a subtly touching movie, never resorting to nostalgic emotional sappiness. Just remember to go see it in a theater that will serve you beer.