I was a big Mickey Rourke guy way back in the day with my affection for the actor being launched by the movie ‘Year of the Dragon’. Now I was a teenager when I saw that movie and I haven’t seen it since 1985 or thereabouts so I probably should watch it now as an old man to see exactly how good or bad it really is, but I sure did love that movie back when I first saw it. From that moment I made it a point to check out everything Mr. Rourke did and that included stuff like ‘Johnny Handsome’ and ‘Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man’ – hell, I obviously didn’t care. I’m guessing about the time Mickey had third billing behind Dennis Rodman and JCVD in ‘Double Team’, his career had probably run its course. Now some 25 years after ‘Year of the Dragon’ Mr. Rourke is heading for the top again, but don’t call it comeback baby, because he’s been here for years. Director Darren Arnofsky’s film ‘The Wrestler’ would be Mr. Rourke’s next step on the road back to respectability, and damn if it ain’t looking like his journey just might be complete.
The film opens back stage at some local VFW of Town Hall where a group of wrestlers are getting ready for the nights big show. They’re going over the ‘performances’ as it were, carefully mapping out how the matches are going to play out. The headline of this show though is Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, one of the greatest and most beloved professional wrestlers of the 1980’s. Well it isn’t the 80’s anymore and despite the fact the years haven’t been that kind to Randy, he still has his shoulder length bleached blonde hair, he still has that artificially persistent tan, he’s still cut up like the steroid abusing freak that he is and he is still the master of the ‘RamJam’ for like Jack Brisco and his Figure Four Leg Lock or Mr. Wrestling No. 2 and his Sleeper Hold, any wrestler worth his salt has gotta have a signature finishing move. People, I used to love pro wrestling. Then I turned twelve.
This is the best of Randy’s life, that is when he’s in the ring, but most of his life is spent outside the ring and here things here aren’t going so swell. He’s behind on his
rent on his trailer park home, he has a crappy job unloading boxes for an asshole boss at a local grocery store, he’s estranged from his adult daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) who simply can’t stand the sight of the man and he’s completely smitten with Cassidy the Stripper (Marisa Tomei) whose best years are also behind her. At least if you look at her face because boys, that body is tight. I sure hope my body is as tight as Marisa’s is when I get her age. Oh, wait… I am her age. So much for that.
A life changing event happens for The Ram which stops him from doing the one thing he’s pretty good at and forces him deal with all the other stuff that he’s not so good at, and things were looking pretty good for Randy for a little while. But my man Randy… yeah, its pretty apparent that he doesn’t do life to good so it’s back to the one place where he can halfway control things, no matter what the consequences may be.
This movie was good my friends. That right there would be my critical analysis of ‘The Wrestler’. Mickey Rourke is getting an awful lot of praise for his portrayal of Randy ‘The Ram’, and rightfully so, but it’s not like the man just learned how to act before this movie started shooting. I’m imagining the good fortune that befell Darren Arnosfsky to have this cat, at this stage in his career at this age, physically looking like he does fall in his lap for his movie. Where else could the man have found somebody with Hulk Hogan’s physique who can also act his ass off?
Even though Mickey Rourke obviously dominates this film there’s still much more to ‘The Wrestler’ than just watching The Ram destroy himself. The insider backstage wrestling stuff is just fascinating, watching what these nuts have to go through to get ready for a bout and how they stage these bouts. Of course I think by now we all know that pro wrestling is staged, but I don’t know how fake it can be when a 280 pound steroid bloated freak jumps of the top rope of a ring and plants a knee in your chest. I remember watching Chief ‘Wahoo’ McDaniel take umbrage at some reporter who claimed wrestling was fake with The Chief quickly showing that clown just how fake it really was. Of course that could’ve been stage too for all I know.
In addition to Rourke Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood toss in a couple a fine, harshly realistic performances as a pair of damaged women, one that The Ram as already pretty much emotionally crushed and another he may be trying to save, even though I don’t think she really needs saving, at least not from him. The other actors in the movie mostly consisted of pro wrestlers and they were damn good as well, particularly Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller as The Ram’s arch enemy from back in the day, and present used car salesman, The Ayatollah.
‘The Wrestler’ is a gritty, hard film with a cold look and feel to it that adds to the ambiance and the realism that Arnofsky has created. As acharacter driven drama it’s one of the best that I have ever seen as this is a movie about people who feel real to me, and is also film almost completely devoid of melodrama, predictable plot devices, twists and forced humor. Just a straight, well told, superbly acted story. I personally couldn’t ask for more.