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"A deeply personal story of one man's search for truth, love, and life outside of the ring."
 
"Dialogue is from the heart, painful and piercing, but genuine."
"A role that is so honest, so powerful, and effortless, that it resonates on a higher level."
The Wrestler  

Cast

Randy 'The Ram' Robinson: Mickey Rourke
Cassidy/Pam: Marisa Tomei
Stephanie: Rachel Wood
Scott: Judah Friedlander
Review January 2009

These things that have comforted me, I drive away.
This place that is my home I cannot stay.
My only faith's in the broken bones and bruises I display.

"The Wrestler" - Bruce Springsteen


"Tell me friend, can you ask for anything more?" The hollow and lonesome lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's ode to "The Wrestler" perfectly describe a troubled character fighting for his pride and survival in today's world. Marked by a stirring and unabashedly honest performance by Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler" conveys the story of a former professional wrestler struggling to find purpose and meaning in his life. Clinging to his glory days, Randy "The Ram" Robinson wrestles in front of small legions of fans until a heart attack forces him to reconsider his future, the possibilities of settling down, reconnecting with his daughter, and finding a normal job. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose "Requiem for a Dream" delicately examined four lives spiraling out of control after drug addiction, "The Wrestler" narrows its focus, examining one life unraveling after a career ending heart condition. Fluctuating eloquently between hope and sorrow, tenderness and isolation, "The Wrestler" packs an emotional punch - a deeply personal story of one man's search for truth, love, and life outside of the ring.

Back in the 80's, Randy "The Ram" Robinson was headlining professional wrestling matches all over the country. He had his own action figure, was featured in a Nintendo game, and had a crippling, match ending signature move known as the "Ram Jam." But those glory days passed by in the wink of a young girl's eye. Nearly two decades later, Randy continues to wrestle, but in half empty gymnasiums and community centers. His body has aged and deteriorated so rapidly, he must rely on a steady dose of painkillers and steroids. Not to mention a hearing aid. While he struggles to make end's meat, he relishes the roar of the crowd and acts as a mentor to many up and coming wrestlers, just happy to continue doing what he's good at, what he knows, and what he loves.

But following a particularly brutal and bloody match, Randy collapses in the locker room. The victim of a heart attack, his doctor tells him that he can no longer wrestle. Doing so would be too much for his heart and most likely, kill him. Reluctantly, he retires and picks up a job behind the counter at a grocery store deli. He attempts to establish a relationship with a local stripper named Cassidy. And he tries to reconnect with his daughter, Stephanie, whom he left behind long ago. But life outside the ring proves to be a difficult transition. While maintaining a positive attitude, Randy finds embarrassment at the deli, he hits a roadblock with Cassidy as she refuses to mix her professional and personal lives, and he is dealt a knock out blow by Stephanie, who drops him with some painful truths. As the 20th Anniversary of Randy's most memorable match approaches, talks of a rematch surface. And it puts Randy at a crossroads - a crucial decision between life and love.

Whether you're a fan of professional wrestling or not, you can't help but appreciate the effort, the performance, and the spectacle. Yes, the matches are carefully choreographed. The punches and kicks are pulled or exaggerated for effect. And the blood and injuries are not real. Or are they? Part of what makes "The Wrestler" a fascinating study is its examination of the world of professional wrestling without detracting from the main storyline. Backstage, wrestlers rehearse and talk through each match, they arm themselves with hidden weapons to draw blood when no one is looking, they psych themselves up, pump iron, and primp to look their absolute best. Through such countless scenes, we gain an even greater respect for the wrestlers - both as actors and athletes. Just as they have respect for one another. And while much is staged, a significant amount is very real. The falls, the scars, the blood, and the sweat. Fake sport be damned!

Unlike Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," which painted a grim and unyielding portrait of characters tormented by drug abuse or even "Pi," which delved into the hallucinatory world of a paranoid genius, "The Wrestler" is much more grounded with its characters and its story. There are no extreme close ups or fast-motion sequences, but rather, slow, natural, and more intimate shots. And it does this, while incorporating the same effective approach of a character's perspective through the lens, as Randy makes his way through the grocery store labyrinth to the deli counter with the roar of the crowd bellowing in the background. Additionally, Aronofsky's choice of the handheld camera makes the film much more personal, eliminating the glitz and glamour of professional wrestling, and making Randy's situation, his successes and failures, all the more real.

Robert D. Siegel, former Editor-in-Chief of The Onion, wrote the screenplay for "The Wrestler." But you would never guess. Known for its biting satire and sarcasm, The Onion is far from bittersweet and sentimental. But always clever and funny because its humor is based in truth. In "The Wrestler," Siegel writes the truth, strictly from the gut. And it shows. Dialogue is from the heart, painful and piercing, but genuine. As Randy confides to his daughter, "I'm an old broken down piece of meat and I deserve to be all alone. I just don't want you to hate me." And subtle humor offsets the heavier moments, through the sincerity and humble foibles of the film's main characters. Just as Randy picks out a present for his daughter. Or demonstrates a wrestling move on a convenience store clerk.

Every year, there appears to be one role that stands above all others. A role that is so honest, so powerful, and effortless, that it resonates on a higher level. This year, that role and portrayal is by Mickey Rourke. In "The Wrestler," Rourke plays a man who excels at wrestling and wrestling alone. He's a man who fails in his relationships, fails as a father, and as an employee. He wants to change, but change doesn't welcome him. Says Randy, "The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don't give a shit about me." It's the perfect role for Rourke, whose own trials and tribulations eerily mirror that of Randy's - once at the top of his game, fights to find meaning, alienates those around him, and then, attempts a comeback. It would be easy to write this off as Rourke portraying himself. But it's far more than that. It takes one incredible performance to pull off the physical demands of the part while balancing the vulnerability, humanity, and inner sorrow that Randy experiences in the twilight of his career.

"In this life, you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you...the only one that's gonna tell me when I'm through doing my thing is you people here." These are the lasting words of Randy Robinson, a bruised and battered wrestler willing to put everything on the line for the sake of his fans. Through his ups and downs, Randy comes to terms with his own mortality. And as a result, "The Wrestler" achieves its moment of truth. Directed with uncanny precision by Darren Aronofsky and featuring the triumphant return of Mickey Rourke, the film soars to dramatic heights. At the top of the ropes, it's a place where Randy "The Ram" feels right at home.



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