For his follow-up to the extremely stylish, epic and psychedelic “The Fountain”, Darren Aronofsky does a complete 180 here. “The Wrestler” is low-key, intimate, down to earth… It’s not quite a Dardenne brothers film, but it’s a close parent of “Rocky Balboa”, Stallone’s surprisingly gritty and heartfelt farewell to the iconic boxer character that made him famous.
Mickey Rourke stars as Robin Ramzinsky, aka Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a once wildly popular professional wrestler who’s now a has been, living in a trailer park, working in a supermarket, spending his nights drinking beer and popping painkillers… Oh, he still gets to wrestle in small events on the weekends, and sure, he can still bring it in the ring… But it gets harder every time to catch his breath, his back hurts, and his heart often feels like it’s about to give in. And the 50something bastard looks pretty grotesque, with his long bleached-blonde hair, his fake tan, his steroids-pumped muscles and his beat-up face…
Grotesque, but not ridiculous. We may crack a smile at the sight of an action figure of himself on the dash of his van, at how he still plays that 8-bit Nintendo wrestling game where one of the characters is based on him or at his undying love for 1980s hair metal, but Robert D. Siegel‘s screenplay manages not to make this washed up wrestler a joke, just an “old broken down piece of meat” for whom we feel tremendous empathy.
Whether he’s flirting with a stripper (Marisa Tomei), trying to make amends with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) or working the deli counter, The Ram is both sad and oddly charming, which has a lot to do with how great Rourke is in the part. Kind of a has been himself (though in my book, “Sin City” already brought him back with a vengeance a few years ago), the ’80s leading man has had some bad breaks and personal problems over the years, but it’s all being put to amazing use here, in what might be the role of a lifetime for him.
“The Wrestler” is not as immediately awe-inspiring as “The Fountain”, or “Requiem for a Dream” for that matter, but it quietly works its magic on you and by the end, you’re once again awed by Aronofsky. The man can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned.