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.