"I aint' as pretty as I used to be, but god damn it, I'm still standing here," says Randy "The Ram" Robinson... or was that Mickey Rourke? Throughout the entirety of The Wrestler, it's kind of hard to tell where Randy ends, and Rourke begins. But one thing's for sure... Mickey sure looks different than he used to (see picture at the bottom for proof). Rourke began his acting career with endless praise, calling him the next "DeNiro," but with drugs, alcohol, and then a career switch to boxing, all the praise and glory quickly vanished. He threw everything away, and only came to realize and regret it years later. The camera trails behind him most of the film, so that in the moments when do see his puffy, weather-beaten face, it makes an impact. This once beautiful man (both the fictional and the real one) has become unrecognizable. The guy you knew from Rumblefish and 9 1/2 Weeks is gone. But Rourke the survivor is still here, and in this, he shows us what the last 10 years have probably been like for him. The Wrestler is jagged, gritty, full of brute strength, and filmed entirely by a handheld camera (which can be a bit dizzying at times). This is worlds apart from Director Darren Aronefsky's last film, The Fountain, a lush, fantastical landscape about life and death, which unfortunately fell flat with audiences. This time, Aronefsky's artful blurring of the fictional Randy, with the true tragic reality of Mickey Rourke, has created a film that can probably best be described in two words, real and tough.
Not one moment is movie is sugarcoated. The tones are monochromatic and dark, that is until Randy "The Ram" steps into his element, the wrestling ring. Then it's all about color, flash and blood (which is frequently real). Rourke plays a quiet hulk of man, face and body destroyed from years of steroids and being beaten into the ground. If professional wrestling is fake, then no one told these guys. They walk out of the ring into the back rooms of Jersey V.F.W halls and run down high school gyms, bloodied, full of tacks and staples, only to be shabbily patched up by standby emergency staff. But Aronefsky has tried his best to show them more as an unsung band of heroes, bonded together by the brotherhood of the fight, and full of warmth and respect for each other. They are a ragged family who speak their own lingo, and they know how to rule the crowd.
Randy lived his glory days as pro wrestling star, complete with action figures and video games. But now years later, he's just had a heart attack, his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) has given up on him completely, he's been locked out of his trailer, and the only comfort he can find is in a lap dance with over the hill stripper, Cassidy, real name Pam (played by Marisa Tomei). In short, his life is very sad. The film follows him trying to make a stab at a normal life in order to protect what's left of his health, relegated to a job behind a grocery store deli counter (complete with hairnet). But, he's a professional wrestler, and real life doesn't seem to mean anything to him without it. Both Rourke and Tomei's characters are already actors, preying on the love of the crowd or the love of the customer, so acting the parts couldn't have been too much of a stretch for either of them. As Randy gives his final, tearful speech, you know he's not pretending, this is Rourke's life under the guise of another name. And Cassidy the stripper/Pam the mom, is not getting the male attention or tips she used to at the strip club, signaling that the time has come to retire her fishnets. Tomei, at age 44, must be feeling a similar strain given Hollywood's lack of room for aging actresses, even if she still has an incredible body (which you see ALL of in the film). The story is of their last gasp, and it drags you in, even if you didn't want to be.
The movie is visceral and unflinching in it's goal of realism, which makes it a powerful but difficult watch. It's not for the faint of heart. Some of the most interesting parts though are getting to see the behind the scenes "tricks of the trade" that these guys use in the ring. It takes you into a world that is fascinating in it's history, lifespan and popularity. But like everything else, it has an audience, and a very loyal one at that. The ambiguous ending is a perfect finale to this strangely "nail biting" film. You see what you need to see, and that's enough. Ultimately, no matter the faults and missteps of this man, you root for Randy... or was it Rourke? I never can tell...
Short and Sweet
The Wrestler comes down hard, but manages to bring you willingly along on the ride. It's gritty, full of broken glass and relationships beyond repair, but you keep your ear to the ground in the hopes that something will work out for this guy. Aronefsky picked the right leading man, even when everyone else told him not to. Despite the tough reality of the film, Rourke is quiet and likely emotionally stunted, making you fall in love with the mystery in him. Nice, solid performances from Evan Rachel Wood and Tomei, who play the women still in Randy's life. The movie fires on all cylinders, but god damn it's sad, so be aware. I will say that now after seeing this performance, I still hope that Penn will take the Oscar for best actor, only because while Rourke is incredible in this role, he's not really acting. He's just playing himself, only in sparkly tights.
"I'll tell you somethin', I hate the fuckin' 90's."
- Randy "The Ram" Robinson
"I'm an old, broken down piece of meat, and I deserve to be all alone."
- Randy "The Ram" Robinson