*Warning: minor spoilers ahead.*
Oh, the magic of cinema, to make one cry, to make one shudder, to make one stand and applaud. How often can a film capture all of these emotions at once? Not very often, especially in the rather dry environs of 2008's theater fare. Sure, we had one of the best films in years (The Dark Knight, perhaps the reason everything else seemed so bland by comparison), and a few half-decent comedies or genre films, but what else to write home about?
Until I saw The Wrestler, I couldn't answer that question. Now I can, because the monumental, career-defining performance of Mickey Rourke alone is worth shelling out the money for more than one viewing. I had not realized this was a Darren Aronofsky picture, and I was thoroughly impressed. Not only is it a clear departure from his previous films, but it's also his very best work to date.
The film centers around a wrestler, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (stage name) who is past his prime and demoted to the amateur circuit. The matches are grueling and realistic, and quite endearing, because they offer a glimpse into the world of these wrestlers, a brotherhood of showmen and sportsmen who may just deserve more credit than they get in this country. Have a bias against wrestling because it's fake? Deplorable? Go and watch this movie. You will never look at them the same way. Trust me.
The film follows a very slice-of-life formula. After suffering a near fatal heart attack post - grueling exhibitionist match, the future of the Ram's career is in question, and we follow his daily life as he works a deli, attempts to re-connect with his estranged daughter, and pursues a relationship with a stripper-mom (portrayed quite well by Marisa Tomei) he has patronized for some time. This is all handled exceptionally well, with loving realism. There are hilarious scenes which will forever etch themselves into your memory. After finally getting enough cash to regain access to his rented trailer, 'Ram' plays Nintendo with a young neighborhood boy, who grows quickly bored and tells the wrestler about Call of Duty 4. At a small American Legion post, Ram and other washed out wrestlers sign autographs for the few worthy fans to remember them. Ram and his stripper interest ruminate to the 80s hair metal of Ratt in a bar. The 90s sucked, and it's all Kurt Cobain's fault! Brilliant. Scenes like this are laden in believable emotional gravitas, and Rourke will hypnotise you with his devotion to this character. I may not have broken up myself, but my girlfriend was crying for at least two of the scenes.
Did I mention Accept's "Balls to the Wall" can be heard in this film? Yeah. Udo, motherfuckers.
The rest of the cast and characters are fantastic. Instead of the beefed up, angry morons you'd expect due to our cultural stereotypes, the wrestlers of the film have quite a positive relationship with one another. It helps that Ram, though flawed, is one of the friendliest characters you've ever seen. We get to see them working out details of their match as they plan to entertain their audience. We get to see the dark side of muscular stimulants and the like, the film doesn't try to hide anything. Most important is the message of the film: do what you know, and be who you are, even if it has a good chance to kill you.
Rourke, Aronofsky, and the rest of the cast and crew deserve accolades for such a loving portrayal of an individual in Middle America. The film is epic in its simplicity, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a goddamned soul, because I don't even have one, and I loved it.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]