The Wrestler

The Wrestler, not unlike the story's central character, is laudably workmanlike. Mickey Rourke gives a superb turn as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in this film. Marisa Tomei does a nice job in offsetting The Ram here, and Darren Aronofsky effectively captures the seductive allure and physical turmoil of what it must be like to be a professional grappler. The film has much to recommend it, and I liked it a lot. Still, it's about half as good as the critics would have you believe.

The piece is a vignette; it feels like a great Raymond Carver story. There's not much context or character backstory, and no resolution. To his credit, Aronofsky does more with nondiegetic storytelling here than most. Both the opening and closing credits are vitally important to the story's impact. If, like me, you grew up watching wrestling in the '80s, then you need little more than the montage of playbills, photographs and publicity releases that establish the legend of The Ram early on. But if you aren't much of a grapplehead and you showed up because A.O. Scott or someone of that ilk gushed like a frat-boy at the Palm Beach Hooters about how cool the show was...well, then you likely left unsatisfied.

And please don't think I'm saying to skip this one. By all means, go and enjoy it. It's a hell of an entertainment and a worthy film. B+ (my wife gave it a C). That said, it's not up there with Slumdog.

Aronofsky captures much of the film from the over-the-shoulder perspective. He doesn't shy away from depicting some pretty visceral gore, either. The Ram's second match is hard to look at.

But look at it you must, because Rourke "brings the good heat" (wrestling term) for the duration of this film. He swings from bravado to self-doubt in subsequent shots. One of the film's better sequences shows him working the deli counter at the local supermarket. He slowly warms up to the human interaction of customer service, making the deli his own wrestling rink as he plays to the customers' affections. That's contrasted with a particularly gruesome come-down late in the film. The emotional range that Rourke displays here is really something to regard and applaud. He carries the film (although Tomei is hard not to watch herself) and brings it home.

Oh, and about that ending? I liked it. I know many in the theater didn't. I thought it was perfectly appropriate.

The criticisms I have mostly have to do with the narrative. The father-daughter subplot was wholly unnecessary. The monetary struggles seemed disingenuous in a few scenes. I think, if anything, the film would have benefited from another thirty minutes.

Usually I think the opposite is true.

Ok, here's what this all boils down to. These are my favorite wrestlers:

#4: Rick "The Model" Martel

The man came into the ring spraying the "scent of arrogance" around like he owned the place. Then he threw fools into the Boston Crab, effectively wrecking dozens of lower backs in the process.

#3: Sting

The dude was just cool. The Stinger Splash was great, and he just had presence. You always knew that if Sting was in the building, things were going to be interesting.

#2: Art Barr, a.k.a. "Beetlejuice," a.k.a. "The Juicer"

Man, that wiki-entry is sad. It's not at all what I would have expected from the ghoul in zubas that would fly all over the ring and, at some critical point in the match, snatch his doo-rag from his head, scattering a thick cloud of flour around the ring, blinding his opponent. I watched him wrestle maybe ten or twelve times. He lost probably a third of them. He was never famous, never a main event. But he was awesome. He had moves and athleticism and would do just about anything in the ring.

#1: The Great Muta

Muta had it all. I rooted for him all throughout my wrestling years (probably when I was ten, and then two months when I was eleven). Watch the video. The man could rassle....

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