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A Director with a Future, an Actor with a Past: Reviewing The Wrestler

Written by: Russell Davidson, CC2K Sports Editor

ImageAmerican filmmaker Darren Aronofsky has had an interesting run. It started in 1998 with his first film Pi, a droning and “out there” piece of work about mathematics and paranoia and electric drills. I liked it a lot, even bought the DVD, since loaned to a friend and lost. Pi announced that a different kind of director was on the scene, someone not into the standard fare, a welcome arrival, to be sure. Then came Requiem for a Dream in 2000. Based on a Hubert Selby book, Requiem is about drug addiction and how far people can sink, downward-spiral kinda stuff. Loaded with camera trickery, wild images, and seamy subject matter, I liked this one a lot too. Aronofsky was taking chances, trying new things. What would be next?

Sadly, the answer to that question was The Fountain in 2006 (we waited 6 years for this?), a streaming mass of gobbledygook that even upon repeated viewings makes little sense. My memories of this one are close-ups of Hugh Jackman floating in a bubble and tree bark. Once again, there were lively visuals, but Darren, you gotta have a story to hang it on, pal.

As much as I hated The Fountain, I gave him a pass nonetheless. His first two were so good…that even with one dud on his record, a new Darren Aronofsky film is still rife with potential.

And so now here it comes, his new film, The Wrestler. He seems to have come to his senses, for the most part. Perhaps the fact that someone else wrote it has helped reign in Aronofsky this time, as The Wrestler is linear, complete with plot and narrative progression. It’s shot in a grainy 70s style with a lot of hand-held camera work, and that works well for the tale of a once-famous (think Hulk Hogan), now on-the-skids professional wrestler, played by Mickey Rourke. There’s a simplicity to The Wrestler that’s irresistible. It’s not overproduced or gimmicky, none of the see-what-I-can-do tomfoolery. It’s small, intimate and personal.

The core of the film is Rourke’s performance. He was in every scene and I never tired of him. The actor’s own backstory gives the performance more weight, and to see Rourke like this, so far removed from Diner or Angel Heart, you have to root for the guy, just as you root for his character, Randy “The Ram.” The plot has to do with Randy’s fallen star, his relationship with his daughter, serious health concerns, etc., and the need he has to be admired, loved, respected, something that came easy in his glory days, but is not easy now. Still, Randy keeps it together, or tries to, quietly, with humor, with a smile, making the best of what his life has become.  Stellar stuff  by Rourke.

Missteps must be noted, however. There’s a particularly vicious wrestling match that goes a little too far in its brutality, even if that’s precisely the point. I don’t need to see everything, Darren. And then there’s (never thought I’d say this) gratuitous nudity on the part of Marissa Tomei, which I know makes no sense, but there you have it. There are also a few tedious cornball scenes that should have been yanked, or rewritten, you’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em.

But see The Wrestler to see Mickey Rourke. Aronofsky puts him front and center, and lets him do his thing. There’s something inherently sad in seeing a movie star age, and Rourke has aged with the worst of them, physically, mentally, emotionally, existence has taken its toll. Everyone knows of how he quit acting to box and got punched around by life, but here he is, back with us. Let’s hope he sticks around.