Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Wrestler: Grade A

The Wrestler (2008)
Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood; Director Darren Aronofsky.

Rourke is “Randy the Ram,” a washed-up wrestler (theatrical wrestling, not the real sport). He looks great with his chiseled, beat-up face, long blond hair and muscular though sagging body. He speaks in a deep mumbling monotone like Stallone, that gives the sense of a large, dangerous, but confused animal.

He has a heart attack and must quit wrestling. Completely lost, he confides in his only friend, a middle-aged pole dancer (Tomei) at a sleazy club. The similar yet different lives of the flesh these characters lead are parallel. Each of them knows they are too old to be meat-based performers, but neither knows what to do. While much has been made of Rourke’s seemingly autobiographical performance (and it is tremendous) the best moment of the movie is Tomei wiggling around the pole and coming to an epiphany, shown by her facial expressions alone, “What the hell am I doing?” It is a truly memorable moment of film acting.

The relationship between Rourke and his estranged daughter (Wood) is a small subtheme that gives him a chance to display his tender side, but even there the interaction feels genuine and Wood delivers a fine performance. The story is extremely well written, so the parallel between Rourke’s and Tomei’s desperate lives is well defined. In the end, each character takes their drifting life into their own hands, each in their own way. The directing is exceptionally good as well. You get a real olfactory sense of those locker rooms, gymnasiums, and that strip club. A moving film, worthy of its many award nominations.

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