January 29, 2009

"The Wrestler" -- Movie Review


"He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
-Samuel Johnson

"The Wrestler" is a backstage peek, not just at the titular profession, but at life and the harsh, gritty sadness it can hold; at what happens when your give yourself so fully to one aspect of yourself that everything else withers up and dies, leaving only the aching strangeness of a phantom limb or, in this case, a phantom life.

Seeing the man behind the curtain is one of the pervading themes of "The Wrestler," and Mickey Rourke deserves the highest possible marks for not only bringing burnt-out wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson to Ram-Jamming life, but also for revealing the rickety clockwork of humanity ticking away beneath the blustering facadé of muscles and spandex.

Randy, a former pro-wrestling super star, lives a life of scraping by between weekends headlining small-circuit matches. He works part-time unloading trucks, sleeps in a crummy trailer park -- or in his van, when he can't make rent. Basically, he stumbles through the day to day, not in a literal, clumsy way, but as a man who only know how to live one kind of life: the life he has in the ring. Camaraderie, showmanship and the cheering of the crowd.

But it's not all huge men in tight clothes -- far from it. We also have Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), an aging stripper whom Randy obviously has a thing for -- though, for some bizarro-logic reason, he seems to be the only one. Unlike Randy, Cassidy has no love for the person she pretends to be, choosing that life, not for any kind of satisfaction, but merely to provide for her son. An unsavory but necessary sacrifice.

And beyond peeling away the layers from the main players, even the very scenery of "The Wrestler" is all about looking beyond the familiar surface. Randy picks up his part-time work at a supermarket, and we follow him through the storage areas, cramped hallways and backrooms behind those universally familiar, fluorescent aisles. The woods around his trailer park aren't any kind of Hollywood landscape, either. They're brown and broken, littered with tangles of brush and thin, weak examples of plant-life. Grounded and familiar for anybody who's lived the scrape-by lifestyle, I'd wager. Indeed, it's the regularity of this world that helps draw us in, leaving us that much more impacted by the lives we watch unfold.

"The Wrestler" is deep, human drama played out on an odd, but familiar stage. It shouldn't be missed by any who consider themselves moviegoers.

5 / 5

As a quick postscript: Randy "The Ram" Robinson's real name, we discover, is actually Robin Ramzinski, which makes this a clear case of "Boy Named Sue" Syndrome. Give a guy a girlish name and he'll become a giant ball of muscle and machismo. Try and give them an overly manly name, and they'll likely end up wearing spandex for an entirely different reasons. Hooray for movie tropes.

-Thad out

This film is a tragedy of great magnitude performed on a microscopic stage. The resulting contrast is an unbelievably moving opus on regret, loss, love and the masks we wear in our lives -- and how, tragically, some confuse the mask for themselves... if that makes sense. If not, don't worry. I'll try to make myself clear as the review goes on.

If you have been reading the reviews on Darren Aronofsky's newest offering you would have undoubtedly read such blurbs as “Mickey Rourke's come-back performance,” “a one in a lifetime marriage of actor and role,” and, my personal favorite, the overly melodramatic “...witness the resurrection of Mickey Rourke.” I can't imagine where these people were when Rourke turned loose his brilliant interpretation of Marv in “Sin City.” His Marv was one of the best performances in prosthetics since Ron Perlman's Hellboy.

Semantics aside, Rourke does give the performance of his career. He's a force of pure, physical nature in this film. He takes the hits and the falls in the arena, while outside he conveys the emotional hits and falls from life. Randy “The Ram” Robinson is a cyclone of brutality, sportsmanship, loneliness, ache and determination who ultimately realizes that life is a play which holds no part for him.

Marissa Tomei's stripper with a heart of gold may well be a cliché, but Tomei manages to pull a rabbit out of that hat by infusing her with simple, down-to-earth sweetness and confusion at her genuine feelings for Randy. Tomei, at 45, is only getting sexier and more fearless with age. Her scenes with Rourke are the true wrestling scenes, as she tries to comprehend her growing affection for this beaten old man.

What they both fail to understand is that both of them are actors in a part, Randy is “The Ram” and Cassidy is merely a stage name hiding Pam, the single mother. Both play a part, and both try to discover what are pieces of the persona, and what is truly genuine.

At the same time, you get the sense that both characters are more comfortable in their stage persona. For they only truly mess up when they leave their characters and try to inhabit the world outside of their respective arenas -- Tomei's stripper realizes she is in love with a man who can no longer operate in the real world, while Rourke's wrestler who is forced, in his silver years, to re-enter society and finds he is not entirely welcome. He learns that his years away from a real life have left him unable to live life without screwing up.

And now I would like to take some time/space to address a certain grievance I've noticed with other critics: that Evan Rachel Wood is the the films only hiccup, and that she hits mostly false notes. This, in my opinion, is untrue.

True, Wood's performance as Randy's daughter, Stephanie, is not of the same mood as Tomei's or Rourke's -- possibly because, out of the trio, she is the only one without a stage persona. She lives, breathes and operates totally in the real world. Her “overly melodramatic performance” could be attributed to a young girl letting loose on her father for his transgressions against her, both past and present. Out of the three, oddly enough, she's the most well-adjusted. To me, her performance rings true, and just as close to the bones as her co-stars.

I must confess something, before I wrap up. This is my first, but certainly not my last, Darren Aronofsky film. I'm aware of his others and have added them in my Netflix Queue. From what I know of his other films though, this is the most simple, yet subtle, movie of his career. There is plot and story, but the attention to these three characters as they live and love is astounding. This is a film filled with rage, regret and yearning. For being his fourth feature film, it is simply startling.

“The Wrestler” is a film much like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Gran Torino” that will linger with you among your subconscious. The length and intensity of that lingering is what separates merely great movies from all-out masterpieces. I'm not quite sure which one “The Wrestler” is, but I have a sneaking suspicion it might be the latter. If nothing else, Randy “The Ram” Robinson belongs in the great pantheon of cinematic characters, of that much I'm certain.



D.R.Blakeman said...

The fact that I lived with Sherman as long as I did... and never shared "Pi" with him... is a sin I may never be able to atone for.

What a kick ass, disturbing, interesting movie. And I never shared it with Sherman.

"Pi" is meant to be shared.

I think, maybe, this may be what tips my eternity to the hot side? Could well be. Shame on me.

"Requiem for a Dream" is certainly a film to be lauded, for sure, but it's also a much sharper pill to swallow.

I've seen it once.

I'll consider watching it again once I've reached the point where I can remember none of the horrific things it branded on my brain.

But, yeah....


My bad.

These are really, really good reviews, by the way.
I cannot wait to see "The Wrestler."

願望 said...

很好啊 ..................................................

オテモヤン said...