365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

2Feb/120

The Wrestler (2008)

Darren Aronofsky's (Black Swan, The Fountain) The Wrestler was my most anticipated movie of 2008. Professional wrestling is my guilty pleasure. I don't watch it every week and I certainly never order a pay per view (ok maybe Wrestlemania every now and then), but I definitely know what is going on. I also have a few compilation DVDs of some of my favorite wrestlers. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) really is a soap opera for men. When I first heard there was a movie coming out called The Wrestler, I figured it would be some lame comedy that made fun of the world of professional wrestling. When I heard that it was not, but was being referred to as not just one of the top 10 movies of the year but the performance of Mickey Rourke's (A Prayer For The Dying, 9 1/2 Weeks ) career, I knew it was a movie I would see just as quickly as I could. The main problem was that I had to wait forever to see it. It was only being filmed in cities like New York and Los Angeles for the longest period of time. Once it came closer to Washington DC, it was still in just one theater which was not very close to my house. Finally, some two months after dying to see the movie, I finally got my wish when it came to our local artsy theater. By that point, the movie probably had no chance of living up to its hype.

My experience at the theater was disappointing. My expectations, as stated above, for the movies were through the roof. I left the movie thinking the movie was above average, but I had no idea were "Movie of the Year" reviews were coming from. There is a pretty good chance that most of the most highly respected movie critics are not professional wrestling fans. Perhaps these critics were getting their first behind the scene look at the industry and were in amazement of what they saw. But I had been reading brooks as watching videos about all things related to the wrestling industry for quite some time. Therefore The Wrestler did not really offer me anything new.  I already knew that an aging professional wrestler hangs onto whatever they have for as long as they can and, like other professional athletes, have the end of their careers end long before they want them to end. I also know the toll each professional wrestler takes with all of the pounding to their body. Those who think that wrestling is "fake" really are clueless. Sure, wrestling is scripted and staged, but the hits and falls they take are really. This really is true this day in age where wrestlers will do whatever it takes to get in edge. They'll take a fall from a greater height, participate in more steel cage matches or tables and ladders matches, and work when they are hurt. Many have substance abuse issues as well as access to illegal performance enhancing drugs. Many, if not most, fail at their personal lives because of how much wrestling takes from you (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Aronofsky illustrated this perfectly in this movie. It just wasn't new to me and therefore that's why I felt it failed me.

However, watching it for just the second time some three years later, I began to appreciate some of what I wasn't able to appreciate in the theater. First of all, I have seen Crazy Heart twice in between my viewings. I saw the movie in the theater and on DVD. A lot of comparisons are made between the two movies and I was able to see most, if not all of them. The only real difference was the environment each character was in. Jeff Bridges won a Best Actor Academy Award for his role as booze addicted former country music sensation Bad Blake. While Rourke got a nomination for his role as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, I did not think his performance was quite as strong as Bridges. At least I didn't think so on my first viewing. Upon my second viewing, I thought Rourke could have won the award (that eventually went to Sean Penn for Milk).

Rourke really embodied the role of an aging wrestler, well past his prime, who is working in high school gyms filled with less than 1000 people for a small cash purse at the end of the night. Whatever cash he is able to bring in for for wrestling when coupled with his job as at a local grocery store barley allows him enough to pay the rent in his trailer park. He's an old, broken down man with no real friends and no real family. His sole companion is an aging stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei - My Cousin Vinny, Before The Devil Knows Your Dead) who he gives money to for her conversation as much as does for her lap dances. Tomei earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award Nomination. After a health scare, Randy realizes he needs to rediscover his life outside of wrestling. His desire is to strike up a real relationship with Cassidy as well as reconnect with his teenage daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood - Thirteen, The Upside of Anger) who he has disappointed time and time again.

Watching Randy trying to come to terms with a life in which his best days are clearly behind him while also unsuccessfully trying to discover his new "best self" is worth the price of admission alone. Rourke, in the role of his career, evokes sympathy as a man who has burned all his bridges and lacks the resources and life skills that he needs to be a better man. The only success he has ever had as been in the squared circle and the only people he has ever felt accepted by are the wrestlers he has built a camaraderie with over the years. While the younger wrestlers respect him and all that he is done, they also see what he puts his body through as a old man just to make a buck.

Bruce Springsteen won a Critics Choice Award for his song "The Wrestler". The song, surprisingly, did not earn an Oscar nomination. Rourke and Tomei each did a fantastic job individually. Their onscreen chemistry was fantastic as well. It would have been a travesty if either actor hadn't been nominated for an Oscar. Wood was either miscast as Randy's daughter or the screenplay between the two needed to be altered. The ease at which she hates her father, then is willing to give him another chance, and then hates him again all happens too quickly and with too much ease. Her character really wasn't needed. It was almost as if Aronofsky convinced himself that the wrestler had to have a kid who he has a terrible relationship with. It felt forced. It might have felt more natural if there was time to build up the relationship before tearing it down again, but, the fact of that matter was, there was not that extra time. It didn't help matters that the chemistry between Rourke and Wood was terrible. I never felt for one second that she could have been his daughter.

In the end, it is a must see for any pro wrestling fan and I highly recommend it for any fan of dramas.

The character development, character chemistry, acting, screenplay, and directing numbers below would have been higher had Evan Rachel Wood not been in this movie.

Plot 9/10
Character Development 8/10
Character Chemistry 8/10
Acting 8/10
Screenplay 8/10
Directing  8/10
Cinematography 10/10 (wow)
Sound 8.5/10
Hook and Reel 9/10
Universal Relevance 9.3/10 (we don't have to be fans of pro wrestling to relate to this movie)
86%

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