Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Wrestler - Movie Review

THE WRESTLER (***1/2) - Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Judah Friedlander and Ernest Miller.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

In 1999, there was this documentary called Beyond the Mat. It gave behind-the-scenes access to pro-wrestling like never before. It followed guys like Mick Foley and The Rock, but there was this detour the movie took when it caught up to Jake"The Snake" Roberts, whose personal demons had consumed him and he was now living out a tragedy.

I thought of Jake "The Snake" over and over as I watched the story unfold of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Robinson typifies the wrestling-icon of the 1980's whose career fizzled out in the 1990's. Now he's reduced to wrestling local matches in gyms with audiences of a few dozen people. He goes to an autograph signing where only a handful of people show up. He plays 20-year-old video games of himself. He's a man who relies on his body for a living and his body is breaking down, and still he has to scrape by working at the local grocery store just to be able to afford rent on his trailer.

Randy befriends local stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a 40-ish woman who relies on her body for a living, but her years make her less desirable than her younger co-workers. The two of them suffer the indignities of aging, of being washed up with plenty of decades of them, but no future.

After suffering a heart attack, Randy decides to reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). It's also probably the weakest element of the movie. Rourke's very good at conveying the pain of a father who's too late in trying to make amends, but every estranged-daughter cliche is there, and nothing ever surprised me with that supbplot.

This is Rourke's movie. I thought his comeback would be ushered along quicker when he stole the show in Sin City, but now he's truly back on the map. There's a maturity he didn't have in his glory days, and while Sean Penn was great in Milk, and Brad Pitt did well in Benjamin Button, this is the performance of 2008.

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