Movie Review: The Wrestler (2008)

Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler
Photo: Fox Searchlight

Reviewing movies I absolutely love is always difficult for me. I can either take steps to sound extremely profound or I can just slather them with meaningless adjectives that tell you nothing about the film itself as much as it tells you I have a thesaurus readily available at my side and a wealth of adverbs I have been waiting to try out. The Wrestler is one of those films that I find myself having very little more to say than I loved it, Rourke was great and Darren Aronofsky once again proves he is one of the most talented directors working today. Of course, that doesn’t fulfill my word count quota, or give you much to go on. Fortunately, there is a little more left to be said.

Playing an aging professional wrestler named Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Mickey Rourke’s character refers to himself as an “old broken down piece of meat” in a heartfelt and highly emotional moment as he opens up to his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Tears roll down his face and it was at that moment I realized Rourke had tapped into something beyond your average, every day performance.

Rourke embodies that broken down piece of meat he referred to and his every action in this film feels wholly authentic. Over the course of the first act we get to know and like Randy. He’s clinging to very little. He’s been locked out of his mobile home and he’s sleeping in his car. He works at the loading dock at a local grocery store during the week and wrestles in half-filled community centers on the weekend. Estranged from his daughter and in love with a stripper (Marisa Tomei), he is a man on his last leg and he is looking to make a connection before it is too late.

Of course, all of this sounds very cliché and very Rocky Balboa; the broken down athlete, the absent child and the necessary female connection. Well, perhaps, and since I love the Rocky films (not V, of course) maybe that is part of why I enjoyed this film so much. However, this film hit a note the Rocky franchise hasn’t breached since the original back in 1976 and while I had wished it had steered clear of a few cliché moments here and there it remains one of my favorite films of 2008.

Watching The Wrestler you feel as if you get to take a piece of Randy home with you. You have no idea how exactly he ended up in such dire straits, but after an opening credit sequence previewing the career he once had and an earlier scene in the film showing him as the respected old blood and his camaraderie with the new blood it speaks to Randy’s character and Rourke owns every minute of it. You will find yourself rooting for him whether he is in a wrestling match, begging for his daughter’s forgiveness or trying to score a date with a stripper. Rourke has created a character to love, and along with director Darren Aronofsky a movie you will love even more.