Mickey Rourke as Randy The Ram’ Robinson
Marisa Tomei as Cassidy
Evan Rachel Wood as Stephanie
Mark Margolis as Lenny
Todd Barry as Wayne
Wass Stevens as Nick Volpe
Judah Friedlander as Scott Brumberg
Ernest Miller as The Ayatollah
Dylan Keith Summers as Necro Butcher
Tommy Farra as Tommy Rotten
Mike Miller as Lex Lethal
Marcia Jean Kurtz as Admissions Desk Woman
John D’Leo as Adam
Ajay Naidu as Medic
Greg Bello as Larry Cohen
Equal parts gritty, gripping and gross, director Darren Aronofsky tells the tale of a once-great pro wrestler dealing with what years of bodily torture both inside and outside of the ring has left him with, which sadly isn’t much.
Rourke plays Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson a pro wrestler in the twilight of his career. Once a top draw on big time tickets, the aged Robinson dwells on the junior circuit with matches held in Knights of Columbus halls and obscure civic centers. He is the darling of that scene, since many of the wrestlers there are trying to move up while he is clearly on his way down. However, a call from an old promoter tempts The Ram with a 20th anniversary re-match against his arch nemesis the Iranian-flag waving (and now cars salesman) The Ayatollah. In the lead up to the match, Ram suffers a health setback and is forced to cancel the bout and retire. He grows closer to his stripper friend Cassidy (Tomei) who urges him to contact his estranged daughter. He also gets more hours at his supermarket day job behind the deli counter and appears to be content with his life’s new direction, but old habits die hard. His personal life unravels just as it is coming together, which moves him to jeopardize everything and go forward with the bout with The Ayatollah.
“The Wrestler” is rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.
This is a different film for Aronofsky coming off the epic-driven “The Fountain” and more of a return to his “Requiem for a Dream” mode. He does a fantastic job showing what the life of an aged pro wrestler could be like and likely in many instances some of Randy The Ram’s story is playing out for the scores of true-life former ’80s era wrestlers. The film is stark and is shot to showcase that fact. One of the recurring shots of the film is the ‘over the shoulder’ view as The Ram is walking through his life. It almost gives the film a documentary feel like a crew is following Ram around chronicling the final days of his career. It works beautifully.
The cast is also great with only minor exceptions. It is really Ram’s story with minor players all around and Rourke is a slam dunk in the role. His ‘everyday’ Randy is every bit as engaging as Ram the wrestler be it longing for companionship as he challenges a kid in his trailer park to a few bouts on his own Nintendo wrestling game or gaining traction at his day job at the grocery store. The story is just as much about Robin (Randy’s given name, which he dislikes) as it is The Ram. But it’s The Ram the people love, so it is the Ram he is with a steady diet of booze, blow and steroids none of which he can afford either monetarily or physically.
You may hear a lot about Tomei’s role in the film, and it won’t be because it was a particularly stand-out performance, it’ll be because she is naked a lot. She is a stripper after all and she morphs into the role wholeheartedly. She spends a good amount of time gyrating her tattooed body around the stripper pole. Ram wants to see her ‘outside’ of work, and she initially refuses, but later relents. There is a great scene where both of them are in a bar reliving their heydays via the ’80s metal music coming through the jukebox.
The wrestling in the movie itself is second rate, but that is what the movie calls for. It is the tale of a dimming former star toiling within a group of second rate wrestlers trying to make the big time. Another great scene in the movie is the behind-the-scenes pre-bout meetings between the wrestlers where they basically hash out the match, determining holds, moves and winners, prior to entering the ring. Yes, even at street level, wrestling is choreographed.
What Didn’t Work:
I had few issues with “The Wrestler” overall. I didn’t particularly care for the estranged daughter angle or Evan Rachel Wood’s performance as said child. It seemed a little forced and clichéd, even for a wrestling movie. In my eyes, they fell back together too quickly and were ripped apart again with equal haste. It could have been fleshed out a bit more without adding significant minutes to the running time. Wood seemed just as disinterested in being in the movie as her character did with The Ram. It was probably fallout from the storyline’s wedged-in appearance in the film.
The only other moment that was a bit over the top for me was one crazed bout The Ram was in that involved everything from barbed wire and glass shards to staple guns. The whole fight was a disjointed, bloody mess seemingly in the film to show what lengths these second and third tier fighters would go to in the name of entertainment. The film could have done without it, or at least an abbreviated version of it.
The Bottom Line:
I dug “The Wrestler.” It’s depressing, but it is still very good and entertaining. Rourke’s name has been mentioned for a possible Oscar nod, and I can see that. He’s already snagged a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. The movie is not for everyone, but it is a solid, praise-worthy film for both Aronofsky and Rourke.