Published Dec 25, 2008In his last movie, The Fountain, director Darren Aronofsky tackled no less a subject than the meaning of life. For his new effort, The Wrestler, he's content to explore the meaning of just one life, and the result is one of the best films of the year.
The Wrestler is Randy "the Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), who got famous in tights in the '80s when professional wrestling was at the peak of its fame. Twenty years later, sporting a hearing aid, Ram is a broken man almost totally devoid of hope, eking out a living at a grocery store and grappling on weekends in half-empty community halls with a bunch of men half his age who are looking for a break - they're on the way up.
Ram has no "up" these days; he's struggling to pay rent on his trailer and his lone companionship is favourite stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), who is happy to chat him up when his wallet's not empty. As the reality of his situation becomes clearer, Ram tries to repair his relationship with an estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and bond with Cassidy even while he denies that he can't keep putting his slab-of-meat body through the torture the independent wrestling circuit requires.
Aronofsky has made a wonderfully understated film, one that beautifully underplays almost every emotional note and moment throughout. But the reason why The Wrestler has been building momentum since its debut at the Toronto Film Fest in September is twofold: a stellar performance by Rourke as Randy "the Ram" and the Cinderella back-story that Rourke's career revival adds to Ram's tale.
Rourke was touted as the next De Niro early in his career before he spiralled into a drain of ego and poor career choices (including an attempt to become a professional boxer). Yet here he is as an older man, sporting a face that barely resembles his heartthrob days, and his near-tragic history helps imbue his performance with an appropriately heartbreaking sense of lost potential.
Aronofsky has a tendency to put style over substance sometimes but The Wrestler is his simplest, most straightforward film. What elevates it to greatness rests entirely on the broad shoulders of Mickey Rourke, a man who coulda been a contender. But unlike Ram, Rourke's days are actually full of hope and a newfound sense of possibility. (Searchlight)