Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Movie Review: "The Wrestler"

Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Official Web site

Mickey Rourke has had an interesting career in Hollywood, to say the least. After making a splash with memorable performances in films such as “Diner” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” he would proceed to make a bunch of generally crummy choices in movies over much of the next two decades. That’s not even mentioning the even worse decision to become a professional boxer – a choice that damaged his face and acting career.

But after some stints doing supporting work in films such as “Sin City,” Rourke was given the opportunity of a lifetime to tackle the lead in “The Wrestler,” director Darren Aronofsky’s vision of a broken down man grappling with demons while trying to recapture a little of his past glory. It’s a task that the actor proves to be up to, both physically and emotionally.

Randy “The Ram” Robinson was once a great professional wrestler, coming up on 20 years since his most memorable match at the peak of his popularity. But, the time since hasn’t been too kind to Randy, who still toils away in the ring. The crowds are significantly smaller, as are the venues, with old assembly halls and American Legion posts serving as the location of the matches. Still, the fans that do show up still have an adoration for Randy, and he for them. He takes a physical pounding during the fights – a scripted one, to be sure – but his body could hardly tell the difference. In the ring, he feels powerful and in control, which is in stark contrast to his life outside of it.

He struggles to pay his bills and keep his rough-looking trailer home, while maintaining an unsatisfying job at a local grocery store. He makes the occasional visit to a strip club, where one of his few friends, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), works as a dancer.

The tenuous control Randy feels he has in his life takes a blow when he suffers a heart attack following a particularly brutal match. Heavy prescription drug usage over the years has certainly done nothing to help his heart, and with his doctor urging him to stop wrestling, retirement would seem to be his only option.

That decision leads him to more closely examine his mess of a personal life, particularly his non-existent relationship with daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). His attempts to ingratiate himself back into her life are met with heavy skepticism by Stephanie, who was essentially abandoned by her father at a young age. There’s both a genuine sweetness and awkwardness in watching Randy try to reconnect with someone he knows next to nothing about. He’s helped a little in his effort by Cassidy, who is a parent herself. She and Randy have an attraction to one another, but Cassidy (who goes by Pam, her real name, outside of work) is very hesitant to become involved with Randy, who she refers to as one of her customers. It’s simply forbidden in her line of work, she explains, but really comes across to Randy as an easy excuse to avoid the possibility of getting hurt.

The scenes involving the three leads have a genuine emotional rawness to them, with Rourke and Tomei giving exceptional performances. There’s a physical and emotional demand involved for both of them, with each realizing that anything less than a total commitment to the roles would ring false with audiences.

With a script by Robert Siegel, the story throws in a bit too many cliches along the way to be completely effective. And the film’s concluding scenes have a compressed feel to them, as if there was a need to rush to the end credits.

Still, “The Wrestler” does a good job of showing the impact that leading a life such as Randy’s can have on a body as well as a soul. And try as he might, not every wound can be healed.

Grade: B
(Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.)

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