Wrestling With Greatness – “The Wrestler”

The Wrestler (2008)This is the type of movie that Oscar loves (as of this writing, Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei have both been nominated for their performances and Rourke has already won the Golden Globe for his).  If you’re a wrestling fan you’ll like it.  If you’re a “smart” wrestling fan you’ll love it.  If you’re not into wrestling or you think it’s “fake” you’ll probably hate this flick but might be able to appreciate some of the performances that are turned in.

As you’re reading this review keep in mind that I’m a “smart” wrestling fan.  Please recognize that the term “smart” as it’s used here has nothing to do with intellect.  In fact that I’m a wrestling fan at all could call into play just how intelligent I am.  The term “smart” refers to somebody who understands how the wrestling business works and what goes on behind the scenes.  I hate to break it to you, but yes wrestling is “fake” insomuch as the outcomes are predetermined.  That said, the blood, chair shots, body slams, etc. are completely real.  But I digress…

The Wrestler follows professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson around the independent circuit.  Ram is well past his hey day at this point in his career and he’s simply trying to hang on for one last pay day (think Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair of present day).  As the story progresses we learn that Ram is basically a fuck up.  His world revolves around wrestling completely.  He’s let relationships come and go because of his profession, he’s done things to his body to jeopardize his long term health for his profession and he’s alone because of his profession.  Unfortunately this is a very accurate portrayal of the life of a professional wrestler.

THE WRESTLING: Actually, there is very little wrestling in this movie.  There’s a couple of matches early in the flick and then one at the end but the middle of the movie is sans wrestling action.  The wrestling scenes are done very well and really show what it’s like to be in the ring.  Not only do we see what the fans would see but we also get an inside look at what’s REALLY going on in the ring.  We get to see how the wrestlers are communicating with one another and how the matches are orchestrated.  There’s a “hardcore” match in there that is absolutely brutal.  If you’ve got a queezy stomach you’re going to want to turn you’re head a couple of times during this part of the movie.  The Wrestler relies less on its sport than say Rocky does on boxing.  The story is really about the man rather than the sport he loves.

THE PROS: The acting in this movie is absolutely incredible!  Mickey Rourke gives a performance that will bring a tear to your eye.  His stuff as a wrestler is great but I actually enjoyed is stuff outside the ring better.  He has an ongoing relationship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) that becomes the the main story in the middle of the flick.  His broken relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) drives many of his actions and allows The Ram opportunities to succeed and fail as a father.  The writing is top notch and with Rourke delivering lines like “I’m an old broken down piece of meat and I deserve to be all alone, I just don’t want you to hate me,” you really get into the story and start to feel the pain that he’s going through.

The non wrestling stuff in here is what makes this movie for me.  Seeing Randy deal with “real life” is sometimes funny, sometimes sad but always interesting.  There’s a scene in the ACME that show “a day in the life of The Ram” and it’s incredible.  This is a character study film and it’s flawless in that vein.

I mention Tomei’s portrayal as stripper Cassidy.  All I’ve got to say is “WOW”.  No body double here and while we don’t get any full frontal this is definitely MUCH better than the “I’m a stripper but I’m not going to show you anything” that Natalie Portman pulled a couple of years back.  In fact, I’m actually kind of surprised that Tomei did as much as she did… definitely a plus for the guys!!!

THE CONS: I’m a big wrestling fan and have been for the better part of 3 decades.  This film was essentially written for me.  It’s gritty and it’s about a wrestler.  That said I’m not sure that a non wrestling fan would “get” just how good this movie is.  In fact, if the only wrestling that you’ve ever been exposed to is WWE on Monday night then I sill don’t think you’ll get it.  A couple of times I had to lean over to my wife and explain just what they were talking about.  They use quite a few inside terms to the wrestling industry (IE, “cheap heat”) that I think are probably lost on a the non wrestling fan.

This movie is shot almost exclusively with hand held cameras and it makes for a very “jerky” film experience (think Blair Witch Project, the first scene of Saving Private Ryan or the last scene of Transformers).  We were sitting about direct center of the theater and my wife not only had to look away quite a bit but eventually got an upset stomach and had to go up into the back of the theater.  It didn’t bother me all that much but I could see how it might bother some people.

The story left a little to be desired in the end.  I’m a big “movie ending guy” so the end of this movie was kind of a let down to me.  Not that it was bad perse, but it just wasn’t as tied together as I’d have hoped for.  It’s one of those that hints at things but never really comes out and says “here’s what happens”.  That said I’m VERY glad that they didn’t go for the obvious ending for the movie.  I guess I was just hoping for more length to this flick… when I see something I like I want to get as much as possible.

CONCLUSIONS: This is a very good movie.  For me as a wrestling fan it’s a great movie.  It’s too genre specific to be considered a great movie by the masses but there’s no doubt that the performances that Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei give are incredible.  Those performances, great action sequences and a pretty good story make The Wrestler definitely worth seeing.

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2 Comments

  1. After seeing Milk I still think that Mickey Rourke got robbed by the Academy. Sean Penn was good, but Rourke was better. My two cents.

  2. Excellent movie – brought back the memories of Central States wrestling when I was a kid… Harley Race in his prime, Danny Littlebear, The Crusher. To be honest, Rourke sort of reminded me of a young Jimmy Valiant in this movie. I’m sure he drew from someone when he developed the character – would love to know who that was. Great review – nailed the movie perfectly.

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