The Wrestler

December 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”)
Written by: Robert D. Siegel (“The Onion Movie”)

It’s not a sports movie in the classic sense, but director Darren Aronofsky’s gracefully expressive film is a perfect example of a heart-wrenching character study worthy of unlimited reverence. At a crossroad in his professional career, wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke in an brilliant performance) must do some soul searching and decide what the priorities are in his life before he loses everything.

The Ram is in the twilight of his wrestling career and can barely afford to pay his rent with the money he earns fighting on the weekends at small arenas. Once a star in his sport, the Ram knows those days are over but can’t seem to let go of the only thing he is passionate about and the only thing he knows how to do. It’s almost like he has something to prove to himself and the fans who have been following him over the years.

Even when he has a career-ending heart attack, there is a small voice inside telling him that he can still compete. He’d rather die doing what he loves than feeling trapped at a second-rate job at the deli counter of a local grocery store where he has to answer to a disrespectful boss.

The Ram is a lonely soul and it shows through his battered face and restless eyes. Estranged from his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), the only real human relationship he has is with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a middle-aged stripper who he visits from time to time at the club. When he does attempt to reconnect with Stephanie, there is an underlying anxiousness Rourke brings out of his character. The Ram realizes if he is given one more chance to show her he is ready to be the father she’s never known, that’s all he’s going to get. You fear for him and the mistakes you know he is capable of making. You fear for him becoming one of those washed up wrestlers who only lives through the glory days.

“The Wrestler” is the best film of Darren Aronofsky career. After directing daring films like “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” and “The Fountain,” Aronofsky takes a very minimalist approach to this film and makes it feel like a documentary about an emotionally- damaged man. For a film that deals with a sport where staging is such an important element, “The Wrestler” couldn’t be more authentic. Rourke, of course, is the major reason the realism comes through the screen. Basically, he’s in every frame of the film. It is evident, however, how much Aronofsky makes these scenes vibrant, inspiring, and extremely sincere by capturing Rourke in his most fragile state from every angle. It’s the best film of 2008.

Darren Aronofsky – The Wrestler

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

Toe to toe with Mickey Rourke at center ring, director Darren Aronofsky fired off a list of demands that the actor would have to follow if he wished to return to leading-man status after 15 years of semi-obscurity. The film in question, “The Wrestler,” is appropriately enough the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up grappler searching for solace at the end of his career. The requirements included listening to everything the 39-year-old filmmaker said, doing everything Aronofsky told him to do, never disrespecting the director on the set, avoiding the clubs, and not expecting a paycheck at the end of the day.

“I’m thinking, ‘This fucker must be talented, because he’s got a lot of nerve to say that,’” Rourke told the Village Voice, adding that for his commitment to the production, Aronofsky promised Rourke an Oscar nomination.

Aronofsky had already proven his visionary talent with his first three feature films — “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” and “The Fountain” — but the once-troubled Rourke was a different challenge. Aronofsky, too, would have to put his faith in his new leading man and hope to get something in return.

How did you actually confront Mickey with this role? In one interview I saw, he says you cut him down and made him feel “small.”

I was very direct with him just because it was a risk to undertake. I wanted to make sure he was going to approach this film in the right way. In the end, I think it was very good for him because ultimately I think what drives Mickey is competition and being an athlete. I think coming up right into his face was actually good. My instincts just told me that was the way to treat him.

“The Wrestler” is so different from your other films. As a director, did you think it was time to try something new?

Absolutely. I think it’s important as a creative person to keep changing and reinventing yourself and challenging yourself. I really wanted to do something very different with this movie. I tried to approach it from a whole new way.

Had you followed wrestling — whether it was professional or underground — when you were a kid?

Like a lot of guys my age, I had a long romance with wrestling growing up, but that was a long time ago, and that’s not why I did this movie. I think I did it because no one had ever done it before and I thought it was an interesting world.

Since you did have some familiarity with the wrestling world, did you let that affect how you envisioned the character of Randy “The Ram” Robinson? There are quite a few parallels between his life and wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

Really, we did a lot of research and got a lot of inspiration from a lot of different wrestlers. I started working on this film back in 2002, so there was about a good six years of meeting people and talking to them. It seemed like the more of these guys we met the more cliché their stories became. Many of them had very similar things happen to them. So, we just sort of collected a lot of that stuff based on their stories and it turned into our character.

I think you really get an idea of the Ram’s iconic status, not only during the behind-the-scene wrestling scenes, but also when he’s interacting with the kids who live around him, and how they all see him as this hero. Did you ever have that growing up — someone you looked up to as larger than life?

That’s a good question. I’m sure characters like Batman and Superman and Spider-Man were heroes. When I was into wrestling I’m sure some of those guys were heroes, like Andre the Giant. But to be honest, not really. There was never someone who lived down the road from me who made that kind of impact.

You often hear the words “comeback” and “resurrection” to describe Mickey’s performance. Do you agree with these sentiments, and, if so, what exactly is he coming back from in your opinion?

Well, I think he took a long time off and spent about 15 years in movie jail. He had offended a lot of people and was difficult to work with, and it took him a while to figure out how to get everything back together. I think Mickey is back. So, in many ways, I think it is a comeback.

I know many studios didn’t want to finance “The Wrestler” with Mickey in the lead role. Now, when you look at the character, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the Ram. Does this give you satisfaction, knowing you knew all along that this was the right choice?

Yes, ab-so-lute-ly! [Laughs] It was a hard role to cast. I had been a big fan of Mickey’s acting. I needed someone who could pull off the emotions and someone who could pull off all the physicality. There are not many actors out there that could do what Mickey did.

Were there any times during production you can recall where maybe you and Mickey weren’t on the same page and, if so, how were you able to resolve those instances? Were you able to match his intensity?

Well, you know, Mickey is always tough and challenging. I think every day it took a lot of conversation and dialogue. Ultimately, he’s like me. He’s a perfectionist and wants to get the best possible product onto the screen.

I’m sure it helped to allow him to stray from the script and make the character his own.

Yeah, there was a tremendous amount of improv. That was definitely the nature of the project. It was just letting Mickey unleash and watching what came out.