Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Wrestler (2008)

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The Jist
The Wrestler chronicles Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a former champion wrestler, as he struggles with the reality of his career coming to a close. The battles he faces outside the ring weigh heavier than those in the squared-circle as he tries to mend broken relationships and make ends meet.

What's Good
It seems that redemption stories come and go in Hollywood week after week, but with his debut screenplay, Robert D. Siegel makes the unlikely choice of framing the redemption theme around the world of professional wrestling in the most creative screenplay of the year. Simply put, The Wrestler is a great story; great characters working through difficult situations that are unique but always understandable, and most importantly, real. The script contains so much attention to detail, both in terms of recreating the world of wrestling and the image of a flawed man. Siegel's creation of Randy "The Ram" will surely go down as his best character. The Ram is perfectly rounded, a flawed man and father, but a good friend, worker, and mentor. We see his nearly countless failures, but also just enough of his sense of humor and passion to make him an incredibly sympathetic character. With a story like this its nearly impossible to avoid cliche, but The Wrestler goes through them so honestly and brutally without over-dramatizing events that even when the audience sees something coming, it still reverberates with true intensity. Characters like Randy's daughter Stephanie, played by Evan Rachel Wood, seem destined to fall into mediocrity, but the script allows Wood to deliver a believable performance as a neglected child with a grudge without going over the top. Todd Barry's character Wayne, Randy's non-wrestling employer, personifies the indifference of the outside world, and his un-sentimental and restrained performance fuels Mickey Rourke's tour de force. The cast of bit parts played both by actors and real amateur wrestlers create a window into the wrestling community, and shows that the characters on screen and in the ring are real people with real problems.

What's Bad
Despite the Wrestler's strong plot, the dialogue, at times, is a bit dull. Some will find the writing to be honest without trying to glamorize the characters and situations, but others may get bored with the trudging conversations. A few of the situations begin to get repetitive, such as Randy's continual trips to the strip club, but none of the film's flaws take away from its brilliant direction and acting.

What's Memorable
Mickey Rourke's performance has been sensationalized beyond belief, and the idea of his life intersecting with art in the form of the title character will forever be associated with the film. But when true genius is exhibited, due praise is deserved, and there are few performances more deserving than the devastating, soul-bearing portrayal of Randy "The Ram" by Rourke. Rourke has created one of the most enduring characters in film history, a modern day Terry Malloy, inspired by all of the great down-and-out characters that have come before him. Watching Randy, the once great superstar of the ring, lower himself to community center events in small towns just to scrape together enough money to pay his trailer rent, all while trying to rekindle the relationship he never had with his daughter, reeks of pain and suffering, but we can't take our eyes off the screen because of Rourke. Randy "The Ram" is real, someone we've watched on Pay-Per-View, read about in the papers, and seen behind the deli counter, and Rourke totally becomes him. The performance is flawless; beyond intimate and inspiring, both beautiful in its subtlety and crushing in its honesty. The Wrestler is Mickey Rourke, but don't forget about Marisa Tomei. The role of Cassidy, a stripper and friend of Randy, was demanding physically and mentally, and Tomei brings a delicacy that softens the blow of Randy's failures. She complements Rourke's amazing performance without ever overshadowing it, half because of Rourke's overriding greatness and half because of Tomei's calculated acting. Lost in the Rourke hysteria, however, has been Darren Aronofsky. Known for his powerful, boundary-pushing films like Requiem for a Dream and the Fountain, The Wrestler is his most traditional and focused work to date. Whereas in the past Aronofsky's ambitions may have outweighed his decision making, The Wrestler shows him at his most constrained, which happens to coincide with his creative pinnacle. The film is great in its efficiency, not wasting one of the 110 minutes and not needing a single frame more to deliver the punch. The plot moves slowly, but at an appropriate pace for the sequence of events, and despite its dark overtones, the film has just enough style. The sound editing and handheld camera work give the situations authenticity, and the editing is spot-on, particularly the phenomenal conclusion. The Wrestler is the fusion of stunning acting and great directing, and a triumphant document of human failure and redemption from the opening sequence illustrating "The Ram's" zenith, to the heart-wrenching final scene.

Good for: all movie-goers, fans of drama, wrestling fans, actors

Bad for: overly emotional movie-watchers, the easily bored

The Gallery
The Surfer: * * * * *
The Writer * * * *