Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke looks good for a fifty-six year old. I should be so lucky when I reach his age. Rourke put himself through a pounding regimen to sell the role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson in his latest film The Wrestler. The work that Rourke put in to make this film believable should easily qualify him for a Best Actor nomination. I had high expectations going into this film based on the viral hype that The Wrestler has generated. Although Rourke was phenomenal, The Wrestler was not without a few shortcomings.

The Wrestler examines the life and poor timing of a washed up wrestler who rose to fame in the late 1980’s as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. We pick up the story of Robinson following a poorly attended wrestling event. As Robinson arrives back at his dilapidated trailer he finds the doors locked by management. Robinson spends the night in the back of his visibly deteriorated van. Robinson’s coat has seams bursting and duct tape repairs in many places. It seems as though Robinson’s meager salary at the local Supermarket combined with the cash he earns for wrestling events barely covers his steroids, pain killers, run-down trailer and lap dances. In a nutshell, Robinson is barely holding things together.

Robinson ends up in a horrific bloody match that becomes difficult to stomach even for a hardened wrestling fan. Barbed wire, shattered glass, razor blades and staples make for a gruesome event that ends in the locker room where a shaken Robinson experiences a heart attack. Robinson learns from his Doctor that his heart cannot withstand the abuse of his steroid use and the physical requirements of his wrestling profession. Robinson ends up engaging a stripper (Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei) in an attempt to remove his lonliness. Cassidy gets Robinson to reestablish contact with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Robinson has deep scars internally as well as the physical damage he has done to his body. His tremendously bad timing leaves right where he started. Or worse.

Darren Aronofsky Directed The Wrestler, creating an almost documentary feel at times. The film was written by Robert D. Siegel who put together an intelligent look at this subject matter. Siegel created strong characters that were able to deliver a powerful message. The dialogue was interesting and credible. The storyline took directions that are not often pursued by Hollywood. The Wrestler does not tie things up into a tidy package or ensure any kind of Happily-Ever-Afters. Instead, we get realistic characters that suffer. We can almost feel the pain sometimes…physically and emotionally. I was a bit disappointed in the storyline involving Robinson’s relationship with his daughter which was glossed over. The chemistry between the two was great but insufficient to tell the story. It seemed that Stephanie’s interaction with her father evolved quickly and dissipated with equal speed. I did not find their relationship to be explored thoroughly enough to make it plausible. The relationship between Cassidy and Robinson seemed a bit more developed and intricate. In spite of the brief examination of the father-daughter relationship, I found the story to be compelling.

I cannot imagine any actor that could have been cast more perfectly than Mickey Rourke. It felt as if The Wrestler was written specifically for him. Rourke provided depth and breadth to the role that made his character convincing. I was “in his corner” pulling for him in the ring as well as out. Rourke managed to evoke a range of emotions without overplaying his hand. Although I thought the father-daughter relationship was not completely explored, I found the chemistry between Rourke and Wood to be exceptional. There seemed to be a genuine chemistry between the two that initially made the relationship work for me. Tomei is another story. She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t exceptional either. Her biggest asset was the amount of skin she showed. Nipple rings and a G-String provide Tomei with enough to keep her performance interesting. Tomei was probably well cast as an aging stripper to balance Rourke’s aging wrestler.

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