Saturday, January 3, 2009

Review: "The Wrestler" Grade: A

"The Wrestler" (2008)
Grade: A

Well, after finally recovering from “The Wrestler” I am ready to review it I guess even though I just watched it I should let it sit with me but I sort of just want to get the review out of the way. While the story of “The Wrestler” is somewhat formulaic, the way it is told is not and what comes out is a film that really impressed me on virtually every level to the point where I now have it as my second greatest film of the year. It cuts deep. It really does, it is not an easy film to watch.

As I said before, this is a sort of familiar story. A has-been cannot seem to get his life in order and every attempt made to establish a connection with someone ends up putting him worse off than he was before. After watching the film I am convinced that Randy the Ram is real. I never once felt like I was watching a performance; it all felt like a documentary. The only love he has from anyone is the crowd cheering and his fans when he wrestles. Outside of wrestling he really has nobody and nothing going for him; so he needs his wrestling to survive. His body suffers so much abuse for the cheering but he puts himself in deliberate pain as long as it means he still has a crowd cheering. He attempts to have a relationship with Cassidy/Pam, a stripper played by Marisa Tomei who also uses her body for a living and also puts herself through a lot of pain to survive. The difference between the two is that she does not like what she does and prefers her Pam persona to her Cassidy persona. Randy on the other hand always corrects people to call him Randy even though his real name is Robin. He prefers the persona, she prefers her reality. She is drawn to Randy but she has a rule that involves no relationships with a customer. She is so adamant about it because she is desperate to keep her outside life and her job life separate no matter what the cost. They cannot mix. So she is torn. We also have Randy’s attempts to patch up his relationship with his daughter Stephanie played by Evan Rachel Wood.

There are other things that happen that I will not say. Randy’s attempt to live a life without wrestling because of something that happens is heartbreaking to watch collapse. It is hard to see someone who is willing to put themselves through so much just to feel loved by a crowd because they have nobody else. This is all done with such dimension and precision that made me feel so let into a character in a way that is rarely seen. I know that a lot of this parallels Mickey Rourke’s life and I cannot deny that this adds a layer of meaning to the film on top of everything but honestly the performance and film go very far beyond the whole Mickey Rourke comeback role thing. This is an incredible performance. Period. By the end you feel as if you completely know him and you feel so hard and so much for this flawed individual. I was left a sobbing mess by the end of the film and again this is with very little music involved. I know I always mention when something if effective without music but that is because so often we are manipulated by film score, great as it is, and I find it to be extremely commendable when a film can make me feel something profound without injecting that enhancer of emotions into the final product (don’t get me wrong though, I absolutely love love love film score). I do not really care who wins Best Actor out of the two front runners for the nomination and win. They are both absolutely incredible remarkable performances, but if I had to pick the winner…I would probably give it to Rourke.

While I know that Billy Walsh from “Entourage” is based off of Aronofsky and that frightens me to my core, I cannot deny the greatness of his film directing despite the apparent enormity of his ego (whatever, most directors have them). His hand held work, his confident and more mature storytelling ability has emerged. As great and unique as “Requiem for a Dream” is, I think this is the slightly better work. He slowly guides us through the boredom of Randy’s life outside of the ring. He lets us feel the pathetic nature of his relationship with Stephanie and Cassidy to a degree. He shows us Randy’s loneliness and his inability to function without wrestling. He does a really impressive job of letting us see Randy’s hope and enthusiasm for things when he thinks things can work out even without the wrestling. Randy’s choice near the end is predictable yes, but it is because Aronofsky has the guts to let Randy’s actions become predictable that makes his character all the more heartbreaking. He shows us the thought process and the methodical breakdown of Randy’s attempt at a life so even though we know where it is going this actually makes it harder to watch. Its predictability is emphasized by Aronofsky and the script, therefore actually makes the film stronger and even more powerful.

Marisa Tomei does so much with the role of Cassidy. This is her second year in a row giving a great performance in a supporting role in a film that requires her to be nude for a large percentage of the time. Whatever though because her body is absolutely stunning. She brings a lot to a role that could have been very one note if done by somebody incapable but she fits right in and became a character I really cared about. Evan Rachel Wood is great as well and even though I am not the biggest fan of hers I cannot deny she does a great job in her scenes which are some of the most moving in the film.

The score by Aronofsky regular Clint Mansell is perfect in its tone and its frequency in the film, not being in much of it at all but being there at exactly the right time. Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Wrestler” at the end of the film really ties everything up nicely and I am rooting for it for Best Song even though I have heard nothing else yet.

An aspect I also loved outside of everything else is the look inside of the wrestling world it provides. The scenes in which the wrestlers prepare and plan for the show were just as interesting as anything else in the movie.

So in conclusion I was extremely moved and uniformly impressed by “The Wrestler”. It is without a doubt one of the best films of 2008; it is a hard film to watch but a very emotionally rewarding one. Not really rewarding in a positive way but in the way that occurs when a film really gets you the way that shows you the power that film can have. The film will stick with me for a good long while I have no doubt and Mickey Rourke will do the same as I try to shake off the emotional ringer that he has put me through in is arguably the best performance of this year. I believe Randy the Ram exists. I believe the story I was told. While it is again sort of a contrived story that we have seen in other forms before, it is told in such an effective way with such an effective character study that it hardly matters. And besides, aren’t most of the other Oscar contenders of this year formulaic as well in one way or another, despite how good they also are? I guess the problem with the film besides that it is a little contrived is that I do not know whtat it would be without Mickey Rourke. Certainly a good film but not anything like what this film actually is. But nevertheless for me it was a powerful experience and right now that is what I care about.

See this film if you are looking for a raw and powerful cinematic experience with a lead performance that will move you to your core. Easily in the top 5 best films from 2008 that I have seen.


Anonymous said...

Billy Walsh on Entourage was based on Vincent Gallo. Walsh was supposed to be an actor/director/artist/musician, much like Gallo.

Catherine said...

oh yeah i remember reading that! i had forgotten. but i also remember reading there was a dash of aronofsky in tarentino in there as well.