Written by Robert D. Siegel
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood
For more information on THE WRESTLER, just click on the title anywhere you see it in this review.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson: I’m an old broken down piece of meat and I deserve to be alone.
I was never a professional wrestling fan as a child. My brother was and so I occasionally caught the weekly shows because I was too lazy to get off the couch when he would watch them. I never understood the appeal. How could grown men rolling around on the floor together in an obviously choreographed battle appeal to the straight male? Is wrestling the straight man’s ballet? And though I never understood why, my brother and legions of other men (and women) would watch religiously to see who would be smashed with a chair while the referee was lying unconscious on the floor. Amidst all of the spectacle though, it is easy to forget that the men in tights put on pants just like the rest of us when the show is done and go home to their lives. Darren Aronofsky is here to remind us of this and to show us the softer or more human side of THE WRESTLER.
From the moment it begins, with an opening credit montage highlighting the career accomplishments of former wrestling superstar, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) over a throwback hair-metal song, you know that you are in for a dirty ride. The Ram has got to be in his sixties at this point. It has been twenty years since he played Madison Square Garden and now he is the main attraction at local wrestling matches that are put up in high school gymnasiums and workout centers. He has no one of significance in his life; he can barely afford his trailer park home; and the steroids and numerous other drugs he has consumed and is still currently consuming have taken their toll on his weathered body. Yet still, he soldiers on. As long as he has his wrestling, he has purpose. Then one day, even that is taken away. Who does a man become when he can no longer be who he has always known himself to be?
THE WRESTLER is Aronofsky’s finest work. It marks the first time in his major filmmaking career where he did not direct a script that he himself wrote. That credit goes to novice writer, Robert D. Siegel. Siegel’s script is bare, honest and frank. It follows The Ram during this hard transitional period of his life and Aronofsky follows behind as though he were filming some trashy reality TV show. After all, this is a dirty story that goes back and forth between wrestling rings, strip clubs and trailer parks. Aronofsky does not sensationalize though. Instead, his newfound simplicity allows the humanity of all on screen to flow freely and freely is exactly how it flows from this immensely talented cast. Marisa Tomei plays The Ram’s love interest, a stripper named Cassidy. Not only does she look incredible working the stage but her off stage persona is a great mix of tender and tired. It is a welcome reminder that Tomei is one of today’s most underrated actresses. And then of course there is the wrestler himself. Rourke is revelatory. He is lonely and broken but still picking himself up and doing whatever needs doing. To watch a man of his age endure what he does in the ring makes you root hard for him but the horrifying violence also inspires intense sympathy.
THE WRESTLER is about purpose. After Aronofsky’s last film, THE FOUNTAIN, failed and fell apart quite publicly, it would stand to reason that he may have been questioning his own purpose. Just like The Ram knows only how to be a wrestler though, Aronofsky has to be a filmmaker. Whatever confidence he may have lost has been forgotten as THE WRESTLER is a brave move away from the visual trickery and style he had become accustomed to. It is the natural simplicity of his new direction that makes THE WRESTLER so relatable, inspires great caring for its characters and solidifies it as Aronofsky’s best work.