THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE
Despite being released in 2008, I had never seen Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, which received near-universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike. Having now seen the film, it’s not hard to see why the film is so beloved.
The film tells the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), an ageing wrestler, who despite his failing health is determined to relive the glory days of his earlier career.
Firstly, it needs to be said, Mickey Rourke is outstanding in The Wrestler, giving the best performance of his career. Similarly to his character, Rourke’s career had taken a nosedive to the point where he was almost forgotten. However, the film not only revived interest in his career (which has since taken another nosedive) but it earned him multiple award nominations including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Rourke delivers a heartbreakingly real performance which alongside the stellar performances of co-stars Marisa Tomei (also nominated for an Academy Award for her performance) and Evan Rachel Wood, create an incredibly emotional viewing experience.
The film manages to take the rather ridiculous nature of wrestling and craft an interesting storyline revolving around drug abuse, family drama and the desire to succeed. Although called The Wrestler, the film is not actually about the “sport”. It is a character piece about the dangers of succeeding and what the pursuit of fame can do to relationships and one’s personal desires. The most captivating scenes involve Randy desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Both actors play off each other so well and despite the fact that we are given little insight into the problems between the pair, the audience become greatly involved in their relationship and that is largely due to the fantastic chemistry between Rourke and Wood. Another standout of the film are the scenes involving Randy and the object of his attraction, Pam (Marisa Tomei), an ageing stripper. Going into the film, knowing that Tomei was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, I was expecting something really special, however, that is not the case. Make no mistake, Tomei is brilliant in The Wrestler, but Oscar nomination worthy? For me, the answer is no.
Although the film does put more emphasis on its characters, it still takes the time to entertain in the more traditional sense whenever Randy enters the ring. These sequences are enthralling, despite the absurd reality of the situation. None of them shies away from the truth, that all wrestling is fake, planned out in advance of the fight. Despite this, my eyes were glued to the screen. As the film approaches the end, and the plotlines begin to wrap up, the film does seem to rush slightly, leaving many plotlines seeming under-developed. If the film was perhaps ten minutes longer, the relationship between Randy and Stephanie, which was the high point of the film storytelling-wise, could have been further expanded on. That being said, as the final scene played out, I couldn’t help but think to myself how I had been both entertained and taught a valuable lesson about what is important in life.
Darren Aronofsky’s career has been rather mixed with audiences as films like Requiem for a Dream have received acclaim whilst films like Noah received much more negative responses. A director who often creates incredible psychological films decides to go for a more simple film and proves that he is more than capable of diverting from his traditional genre. Aronofsky is arguably at his best here with every scene crafted perfectly. The script, written by Robert Siegel is superbly paced (apart from the final ten minutes), with the runtime seeming even shorter than the 109 minutes, as the film just flies by. The Wrestler isn’t a very original film as many of the plot elements have been told time after time after time. It is Aronofsky’s approach to telling this story that makes The Wrestler standout. It’s a simple story about a guy who despite his love for his estranged daughter and his desired would-be stripper girlfriend, his heart belongs in the ring.