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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

 

The Wrestler: The ModFab Review

THE WRESTLER
Fox Searchlight (109 Minutes)
Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood
Written by Robert D. Siegel
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

In a year that has already boasted stunning performances by a number of actors (Sean Penn, Heath Ledger, Richard Jenkins, Brad Pitt) as well as one bona fide career resuscitation (Robert Downey Jr.), nothing quite prepares you The Wrestler, and for the mind-blowing return of Mickey Rourke as Randy the Ram, a past-his-prime former superstar of the ring. Unadorned, stark, and quietly intense, Darren Aronofsky's portrait of surviving and aging is one of the most moving character studies of this or any year. But Aronofsky is only part of the reason for the film's unlikely success; the slow-burning engine at the heart of the film is Rourke, whose tender, subtle turn is a revelation not only for its gentility, its dexterity, and its piercing truthfulness, but also in the way it makes you completely re-evaluate the actor himself.

Shot in a grungy, spare style worthy of its central Jersey setting, The Wrestler is in many ways merely an epilogue. The first scene following the rock-em, sock-em title sequence has a caption that reads "20 years later"...letting us know immediately that we've arrived at the end of something, a career, a youth, a fame. Randy is a pummeled brute, a beast of burden in America's cheap-thrill gladiator circuit; he knows what he is, and for the most part is content with his place in the world. But the horrific damage to a wrestler's body can only be suffered for so long. This conundrum, of fading athleticism and the ravages of time, is probably what attracted Aronofsky to the material; his recent films, The Fountain and Requiem For A Dream, also dealt with age and impermanence. The questions are powerful and far-reaching....what is Randy good for if he is not in the ring? What is he for, in a larger sense? How does one survive one's past and transform? And is survival worth the blood?

Part of the answer, The Wrestler argues, lies is the fact that none of this is cut and dried. ????? (Marisa Tomei), for instance, is a local stripper and the longtime object of Randy's blundering affections; when he proposes an actual relationship, her boundaries are comprised...as is her private life, which includes being a single mother. Randy's daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) has been parentally abandoned for her entire life; her fury at him, and her secret desire to be loved by him, fight across her face like an epic battle in minature.



But the real reason to see The Wrestler is Rourke, who creates the most arresting screen bruiser since DeNiro raged as a bull. Forget the physical ability that a role like this requires; it demands a technical discipline, an emotional honesty, and a tragedian's understanding of the human condition. As "The Ram" climbs to the top rope one more time near the end of the film, it's not unlike other unfortunate giants of the cinema: King Kong, Stanley Kowalski, all the little lives writ large. The reason they and Randy The Ram work, as cinema and as unlikely heroes, is we can see ourselves beneath their cracked, torn skins. For that, if nothing else, The Wrestler is worth getting to know.
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