Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Wrestler gets me in a head lock


Saw The Wrestler at a preview screening last night – it rocks and if Mickey Rourke doesn’t get an Oscar for this one, there is no justice.

Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a sub-WWF star wrestler. The Ram’s heyday was around 1984 and with his glory days long behind him, he is now reduced to fighting at tawdry local bouts. He has no relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and having blown his wrestling money, lives in a trailer and does the odd shift at the local supermarket. His life is out of control and he is able to wrestle only because of a cocktail of steroids. But he can’t bear to give up the ring, despite being far too old to fight for a living.

The theme of people clinging to past glories forms the backbone of this film. Randy signs autographs at a sparsely-attended “Legends” signing session, surrounded by old men who look nothing like the wrestlers they once were. His female counterpart is Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), well over 40 and still stripping at a low-class club. Randy’s inability to change starts to become serious when he suffers a heart attack after a brutal match and is told by the doctors that another fight could kill him. Meanwhile Cassidy, who works to support her young son, realises that she can no longer compete with other, much-younger strippers.

The film raises interesting questions about ageing – specifically what people who depend on their bodies for a living can do once their bodies give up on them. Both Rourke and Tomei seize the challenges that their roles provide and deliver in spades. They aren’t afraid to show their characters at their very worst – the self-pity, the self-delusion and the vanity. There are no real villains in this piece except for the characters’ own stubbornness and their addiction to the cheers of a crowd.

The only thing I’d like to have seen more of was Evan Rachel Wood’s character. Wood did her best with what is an under-written part, but it would have been nice to have found out more about her and what she thought of her dad’s career. But ultimately The Wrestler is a brilliantly-written, brilliantly-acted movie that gets under your skin and won’t let go. I know who I’ll be putting my Oscar money on.

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