Thursday, January 29, 2009

1/29/09: The Wrestler (2008)

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is pretty much what you'd expect a 1980s WWF hero look like 30 years after his peak, his body ravaged by too many years of facebusters, backbreakers and chokeslams. Add in the myriad steroids, painkillers and various destructive elements—one competitor uses an actual staple gun on Randy—and it's little wonder that his ticker is waving the white flag of surrender. The Wrestler is ostensibly a sports movie (if you want to call wrestling a sport), but it's mostly about his attempts to bond with two women: a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), and his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), each with marginal success.

I'm either getting more squeamish with age, or movies are becoming significantly more intense and graphic. I don't remember ever needing to look away from a movie in my life, but in the last year or so, I find myself unable to stare directly at the screen. The Wrestler is loaded with unsightly and unsavory images: Randy vomits on the floor, he gets punched, bodyslammed, sliced with a razor blade, butchered by a deli slicer...and then there's that staple gun. His body is a roadmap of scars and bruises, and that's before his open-heart surgery. I'm pretty sure I groaned out loud at least twice. But the potent imagery is worth braving for the intriguing character study. Rourke's nominated for a Best Actor statue, and Tomei's got a Best Supporting Actress nod. And I try never to miss the always engaging Evan Rachel Wood (so good in TV's Once and Again and the movie Thirteen). As Randy the Ram, Rourke is hard to look at, and impossible not to watch. He's a well-meaning fuckup, a broken wrestler who's past his prime but can't get the damn sport—to say nothing of his former glory—out of his system. The film kept me interested all the way through to its sad but logical conclusion. Rating: 4/5.

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