CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Professional wrestling is an exceptionally mysterious beast, and that’s saying something.
Despite constantly being broadcast into people’s homes, so much of what happens isn’t in front of the cameras. There are people back behind those curtains. They are athletes, stuntmen, and actors. They are professional wrestlers. They can get thousands of people worked up into frenzy, and still manage to perform precision moves and fly like trapeze artists. I will always have a great deal of respect for these people, who live on the road, and hurt themselves every night so others can be in high spirits. Then there is another layer beneath the shine of Titantrons that people see on TV, and that is the independent wrestling scene. The polish is rubbed off, but the wrestlers don’t change. This is where most of “The Wrestler” takes place.
Between this grime and the ring is where we find the protagonist, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke).
I don’t want to tell too much of the plot, but it’s pretty simple. We follow Randy, a former wrestling superstar who has fallen on hard times, as he tries to continue living his dream of wrestling, while paying the rent, finding love, and rebuilding bridges he burnt down over his 20 years of living life in the fast lane. That’s essentially the whole movie, and there is nothing wrong with that. This movie doesn’t try and do more than it needs to, but for such a simple premise, the movie carries a lot of weight. The heavy themes of this movie don’t drag it down, but rather raise it higher than any movie about a Wrestler and a Stripper should go.
Writers: Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Seen at: Harvard Square
Running time: 105 minutes
Don’t let the idea of this movie fool you, it isn’t about some meathead clichƒ© and his comeback. It’s about a real person, like you would find walking down the street. He’s a wrestler, but has to do double time working at a supermarket to make ends meet. He’s a local hero to all the neighborhood kids. He’s not a dumb man either, just burnt out. In the end, the parallels to Mickey Rourke are fairly obvious, and it might be one of the reasons that this is Rourke’s best role of all time.
About 5 minutes into this movie, I forgot that Randy wasn’t a real person. I actually forgot that it wasn’t a documentary. Rourke dives into this part head first and embraces it. From being slammed on the mat, to showing up outsides his daughters house, begging for a second chance, Rourke fills every aspect of the character and then adds more. His pitted face and sunken eyes are things that you can’t act.
Marisa Tomei plays the aging stripper, Cassidy, and is the mirror to Randy. She does a great job, but is overshadowed by Mickey in this. It’s not a knock on her, but rather a statement about just how good Rourke is in this.
The acting and the script were both phenomenal, and the rest of the movie matches up. The wrestling matches have a purpose and interject action into a redemption story. The sets are amazing, and are actually accurate. I know it’s not hard to make someplace look like the back of a deli counter or an Elks Club, but it is difficult to avoid making them into movie sets. There are no bright lights, or well lit corners. You see the shadows, and you see the cracks. You see how something so normal, and so basic, could be someone’s Valhalla, and that is just what the ring was to Randy.
Ironically, one of my least favorite musical genres, “Hair Metal,” provides an amazing soundtrack for this. The whole movie kicks off with “Metal Health” by Quiet Riot and it sets the pace for what you’re about to see. There is even a scene, in which Randy says that he hates the 90’s because it killed his beloved hair metal. He relates to just always wanting to have fun, and eventually getting tossed to the side, despite never changing what you did. It’s just another layer on this movie, and it works.
When all the smoke settles, this is without a doubt one of the best movies of the year. It is also one of the most authentic. It looks real, feels real, and as far as I am concerned, might as well be real. So I hope for Mickey Rourke to get every award he is nominated for, and the same for this whole movie. And more importantly, I hope you gather yourself up, find the nearest place this movie is playing, and go see it. You won’t regret it.