This is a drama about an aging professional wrestler, decades past his prime, who now barely gets by working small wrestling shows in VFW halls and as a part-time grocery store employee. As he faces health problems that may end his wrestling career for good he attempts to come to terms with his life outside the ring: by working full time at the grocery store, trying to reconcile with the daughter he abandoned in childhood and forming a closer bond with a stripper he has romantic feelings for. He struggles with his new life and an offer of a high-profile rematch with his 1980s arch-nemesis, The Ayatollah, which may be his ticket back to stardom.Written by
"The Wrestler" is a beautiful movie, but it wouldn't be half as good if Mickey Rourke hadn't given the main character a face and a heart. There's virtually no other Hollywood actor that could have embodied Randy "The Ram" Robinson as perfectly as Rourke, and it's shocking to think how the movie could have turned out had someone else, say Bruce Willis or - as originally planned - Nicolas Cage played the part. With Rourke it's not so much an actor memorizing lines and delivering them convincingly, it's like watching a guy having gone through hell and now showing his scars. Rourke's performance even lets one overlook some rather clichéd elements in the story (the exotic dancer with a golden heart, the neglected daughter, a dance in a romantic dilapidated ballroom). It's all good, because one look at Randy's face reminds us of all the hits and punches he must have taken in the past, and it all becomes real again.
So, Rourke obviously makes the movie, but that's not the only remarkable thing. Besides a very good performance by the beautiful Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler" is also worth mentioning because it marks the first time Darren Aronofsky has made a straight forward drama that's not heavy headed or laden with too much symbolism. After the highly pretentious "The Fountain" such a movie was more than due. "The Wrestler" proves that Aronofsky is not only capable of stylistic extravaganza, but can also handle the art of "plain" storytelling.
The fine title song by Bruce Springsteen must not be forgotten, either. After "Streets Of Philadelphia" and "Dead Man Walking" this is his third soundtrack contribution that captures the feel of a movie beautifully. Props to Aronofsky for putting an emphasis on that song by letting it play over a black screen for a couple of seconds before the closing credits start to roll.
In the end, "The Wrestler" is such a huge success because Aronofsky made the right choice by insisting on Rourke to play the main role, and because Rourke more than lived up to the director's expectations. Sean Penn may have been very good in "Milk", but the character of The Wrestler is a thousand times more interesting and memorable, and considering that fact that Rourke will forever be remembered for this great performance, he would really have deserved the Oscar.
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