The Wrestler

The Wrestler

2008, R, 109 min. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller.

REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Jan. 9, 2009

As far as I’m concerned, you can keep your Sean Penns and your Brad Pitts and your Frank Langellas; if there’s any justice in the world, this year’s best actor Academy Award will be going home with Rourke (assuming Rourke has a home and doesn’t just sleep in alleyways and bus stations). In the latest from Aronofsky (Pi, The Fountain), Rourke rips his tattered name out from the dustbin of history with his portrayal of Randy “the Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler (and fellow dustbin inhabitant) who long ago said goodbye to the thrills of Madison Square Garden and hello to the dreary resignation of run-down gymnasiums: Nowadays Ram spends more time wrapping cold cuts at a grocery store than he does body-slamming opponents in the ring. But those looking for a grand discourse on the suffering nobility of the aging pseudo-athlete in modern, youth-obsessed America will probably go away disappointed from The Wrestler. Aronofsky and screenwriter Robert Siegel are less interested in tragedy than they are the intimacy that develops between men engaged in close-contact battle and the contrivances needed to make that contact look as “real” as possible. Together they create innumerable fascinating moments that have the air of documentary truth about them. Take Ram and a Mohawked, snarling baddie talking shop backstage at some VA hall in New Jersey and laying out the game plan for that night’s fight. Or Ram dying his hair and crawling into a tanning booth and injecting himself with steroids and doing the 101 other things a professional wrestler has to in order to maintain the appearance of superhuman, ageless health. And then there’s Ram pulling staples and glass shards out of his chest after a particularly brutal “extreme” wrestling bout that nearly kills him. In these scenes, Rourke is the very soul of a modern movie actor, baring himself physically and emotionally in an effort to expose the soul of a man whose entire life is predicated on artifice – a broken old actor playing a broken old actor playing an unbreakable superman. For those searching for still more proof of a damaged life, you get Ram at the strip club, where he befriends another quickly aging soul in dancer Cassidy (Tomei), and Ram with his long-estranged daughter (Wood), to whom the wrestler returns in a bid for redemption. But let’s be honest: The story of the waning athlete, the stripper he loves, and the daughter he left behind is an old one, and if The Wrestler is ever in danger of slipping into sentimentality, it’s here. Thankfully, Aronofsky knows what he has in Ram and his wrestling buddies; whenever the risk of cliché arises, he takes us back into the ring, where fake combat breeds true intimacy and where a once-huge, now-humbled actor can tear his body and his soul to pieces, leaving the blood and tears around for everyone to see, in a desperate attempt to make good on the promise of his youth.

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The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky, Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller

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