Friday, February 20, 2009

Movie #21: The Wrestler (2008)

Getting to the end of the mad dash to catch as many Oscar nominated films as possible, and it feels nice. There's an odd feeling that accompanies it, though: THE WRESTLER was one of my most anticipated films of 2008, and when it came time to watch it I held off and watched other things, did other things, simply because I was getting tired of having to watch the films.

But THE WRESTLER deserves better than that. The talk for the past couple rightfully centers on Mickey Rourke, who is able to completely dissolve into the role of Randy the Ram. For all the talk of Rourke essentially mirroring his life, I think the audience brings that to the film more than Rourke does, and it's a brilliant move. For two hours he is Randy, and it's only after the credits roll and you hear Bruce Springsteen's mournful title song that you begin to realize how much of Rourke is in the role. It's a difficult balancing act, but he pulls if off and I think that's why the nomination is so well deserved.

But this wasn't only the film Rourke needed to make; this was the film Darren Aronofsky needed to cleanse his palette after the lengthy trials and tribulations that came with realizing THE FOUNTAIN. Aronofsky looks like a different director in the WRESTLER, opting for a very grainy, low-budget documentary look. But you can't get away from the camera, which weaves in and follows the action in a way that sets it apart from a more novice filmmaker. There's a great instance where we watch Randy walk through a series of corridors before stepping out into the crowd, which is mirrored later by a very similar walk that only leads to the deli counter where he's picked up a couple of extra hours. When it comes to the actual wrestling scenes the Aronofsky makes sure that everything is so brutal it's almost too painful to watch. One of the things THE WRESTLER excels at is really showing you the life of what these guys have to go through before, during, and just after the matches. Anyone still raging over the fact that wrestling is fake isn't seeing the point. Aronofsky makes sure that you do.

But if THE WRESTLER was just about life in the ring, it wouldn't have the emotional impact it does. The movie follows Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a once great wrestler beaten down physically by his time in the ring. His body's a mass of injuries that takes dozens of pills to continue to function. He's broke, partially deaf, and living in a small trailer when he can afford to pay his rent. During the week he unloads trucks for a grocery store, and at night he pines away at the local strip club for Cassidy, the beautiful stripper who reminds him of the glory times of the 80s when Quiet Riot was on the radio and wrestling was on every weekend. His daughter hates him for never being there, and all of this sits like a boulder on his shoulders. But even though every nerve in his body tells him he can't continue, his mind and soul still crave the roar of the crowds and the thrill that comes with being in the spotlight, even though it can kill him.

THE WRESTLER shows Randy's life in all of these circumstances, and doesn't shy away from the sadness of being out the spotlight, of having a meet-and-greet at the local Kiwanas Club and having no one show up to you table, where you have a stack of old VHS tapes and a Polaroid camera for pictures. But that sadness is always tempered by Randy's optimism, whether it's connecting with Cassidy during a shopping expedition or sweetly complimenting his opponents before a match. He can't help being the showman; even at the deli counter he son falls into the familiar patterns of making jokes and passing could cuts out like a football game.

THE WRESTLER takes all of these pieces and combines them into an emotional portrait of a man who refuses to cave in or change on anything other than his terms. By throwing away all the fancy editing and effects that were a staple of his previous films, Darren Aronofsky has crafted his most delicate and personal film. And by not holding anything back as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, Mickey Rourke has given a performance that will stand long after awards are won or lost.

1 comment:

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