Around this exact same time last year, I walked out of the movie theatre after viewing “There Will Be Blood” on a cold January day. Seconds after it ended, I said to myself “Daniel Day-Lewis is the best actor of 2007.” Today, just seconds after “The Wrestler” concluded I found myself thinking that exact same thing, but this time it was all about Mickey Rourke.
“The Wrestler” begins following around a big, long blonde haired man with only the back of his head seen. He sits in a chair in what looks like a preschool wearing nothing but a pair of wrestling tights. We learn moments earlier that this man is Randy “The Ram” Robinson. “The Ram” was once a part of his name during his days as a professional wrestler. Once a star, Randy is now old and burned out. If you saw him now, you’d never know he was a wrestler. He’s got a bad heart, an ear piece, and can barely pay to live in his New Jersey trailer home.
He works at a butcher shop and occasionally still subjects himself to small, underground wrestling matches. He’s obviously outlived his wrestling days, but he does it just out of pure desperation. Throughout the movie, he tries to make a comeback all while trying to reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and forming a friendship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei).
Mickey Rourke, when given good material, can be one of those actors who steals every scene he is in from everyone else around him. He becomes the movie. He turns Randy into a broken down old dog with a sense of humor, compassion, and a longing for everything in his life to go right for once. One key scene with him and Tomei getting a drink in a bar. The song “Round and Round” plays and he encourages her to dance. In another scene, he walks out a bleak looking hallway, picturing crowds of fans cheering for him into the counter of a butchershop and delivers everyone’s food with such a huge sense of humor and enthusiasm that it’s not hard to understand why he was once a celebrity. After viewing these two scenes, I knew for sure that Rourke would win best actor this year.
Rourke’s amazing performance might make you forget that there’s an actual movie here, too. And it’s a good one. “The Wrestler” could’ve been that feel-good cliche sports movie that Hollywood loves so much but thanks to director Darren Aronofsky, “The Wrestler” has all of the frank, brutal violent realities of the underworld that he captured so well in “Requiem for a Dream.” Unlike the WWF matches they show on TV, “The Wrestler” captures all of the wrestling matches from right inside of the ring, in the two wrestlers’ faces. One wrestling scene that involves shattered glass and a staple gun is one of the most violent scenes ever captured on film. It’s so real that you want to look away, but so stunningly captured that you just can’t miss a second. Sport action hasn’t been this perfectly recreated since “Raging Bull.”
Many might have you believe that this an uplifting story. Yes, in the fact that it captures a comeback, but no in nearly everything else in The Ram’s life. Like his daughter tells him, he’s a f***up and he knows that nothing he can do will change that but since he’s got something he does well he might as well do it. Wrestling for him is an act of desperation and you can feel him so desperately clinging to life and trying to let it give him a second chance. Unlike Rocky, he’s not wrestling to be the winner, he’s just wrestling so he can carry on living.
While the film contains some flaws (dropping the storyline about his daughter too quickly, ending abruptly) it is really a beautiful story about a struggle for survival. A story about one man’s quest to let the American Dream give him one last shot. Arronofsky makes the wrestling scenes seem almost like gladiator fights and Rourke makes Randy into a true gladiator, just hoping to get out of another fight alive and breathing.