Review: THE WRESTLER (2008) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Review: THE WRESTLER (2008)


Mention the name of Darren Aronofsky and one thing that comes immediately in mind that he's the director who always remembered for thought-provoking, stylistic excesses ranging from his debut of 1998's Pi to 2000's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and right down to 2006's THE FOUNTAIN. But Aronofsky's fourth feature, THE WRESTLER, is surprisingly different than what he's usually capable of. That said, this is unlike anything fans or audiences alike who always expect from Aronofsky and it's a small, non-flashy movie that not only serves as his most mature effort to date but also one of the year's best you've ever come across. In addition to Aronofsky's remarkable filmmaking resume, is forgotten lead actor Mickey Rourke whose faltered career briefly revived in 2005's SIN CITY but here he's finally seals the deal making a grand comeback no one could have seen him coming. But Rourke did just that -- he and Aronofsky does sounds unlikely in the first place, but after watching it, both of them are such a perfect match.

The story, in the meantime, penned by Robert B. Siegel, is essentially familiar but efficiently-told ROCKY-style method that offers nothing we really haven't seen before but it's pretty assured nonetheless: Back in the late '80s, professional wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) was a top contender who headlined matches all across the country. He's a wrestling champion of all champion who celebrated numerous glory days and he proves to be so popular that he even had his own action figure and a Nintendo game featuring his signature move of the so-called devastating "Ram Jam". But decades later, as time has passed by, Randy is no longer the superstar he once enjoyed. Instead, his aging body becomes too prone for pain and he have to result on popping pills in order to stay in shape. Once he used to be in a big-game tournament but now he is all reduced to travel along New Jersey performing in high school gymnasiums and community centers instead. The crowds aren't as large as they used to be back in his heydays, but all Randy cares it's that they are some loyal fans out there still roaring and chanting to his name. Then one day, after a particularly intense match, Randy suffers a massive heart attack. He is advised by his doctor to quit wrestling or else he might faced possible death. And so Randy reluctantly retires from the ring and forced to make ends meet by picking up some weekend hours at the local grocery-store deli, doing his best to maintain positive attitude behind the counter. In the meantime, he has a thing for local stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and hoping he can settle down with her and start a new life together. However Cassidy isn't sure whether falling in love with Randy is the right thing to do, especially all the while she treats him more like a regular customer. Still Cassidy also persuades Randy to find time to meet up his long-forgotten daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) he once left behind. As Randy struggles to re-adjust his life as a "regular" person, he is later discovers that there's a once-in-a-lifetime rematch against his former archrival "The Ayatollah" (Ernest Miller) as the mark of 20-year anniversary.

As a battered, bruised and emotionally-depressed Randy "The Ram" Robinson, Rourke's remarkable performance alone is worth the price of admission alone and that's saying a lot already. Back in 1986, Rourke is a promising actor who is eventually making big as a A-list status following from his popular success with Kim Basinger in the iconic erotic drama, 9 1/2 WEEKS. But he quickly falls from grace for a long time after years of abusing himself with bad reputation and such. Here, reflecting his own ruined self has certainly plays the bigger role for the part he's taking here and that is what makes his character all the more believable and brutally honest to the core. He makes full use of his all-weathered look, muscled body and his real skills in his once-brief career in boxing to channel a layered and authentic protagonist we can really relate him as a flesh-and-blood human being, even though his Randy "The Ram" Robinson is fictional character. There's so much more to say about his performance because he's simply front and center in every scene -- at times poignant, reckless, funny, sarcastic, likable and heartbreaking as well. Matching to his tour de force role is Marisa Tomei, in a raw but emotionally tender performance as Cassidy, who struggled as a working single mother and a stripper tired being eclipsed by her generally degraded profession. In a smaller but nevertheless important role, Evan Rachel Wood is similarly competent. Her particular scene with Randy visiting a cold and deserted Asbury Park is memorable -- in which they try to reconnect each other to their past and end up in an impromptu dance together inside an abandoned hall. There's a certain simplistic yet powerful moment that really moves you.

For the record, Aronofsky and his cinematographer, Maryse Alberti, works on their best advantage to capture their movie in as minimal as possible without calling too much of an attention. This is a movie not to be missed.

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