Thursday, February 12, 2009


I don't need to write a lengthy piece about Darren Aronofsky's masterpiece The Wrestler (****). It's just not necessary. It's a perfect film. There isn't one false moment, there are no wasted opportunities, and there is zero sense of pretension in this quietly powerful motion picture. Coming from a unique stylist like Aronofsky, whose previous efforts include the brain-tingling, micro-budgeted thriller Pi, the hard-core, drug-addiction drama Requiem for a Dream, and the metaphysical and totally out-there sci-fi romance The Fountain, The Wrestler is no less accomplished as those films, but in a very different way. Working with Italian cinematographer Maryse Alberti and emulating the films of the Dardenne brothers by shooting with naturalistic light and hand-held cameras, Aronofsky creates a dirty, gritty, lived-in atmosphere where his potentially self-destructing characters are set free. Working from a tender yet emotionally and physically violent original screenplay by Robert Siegel, Aronofsky also benefits from having the performance of the year at the center of his tale. Mickey Rourke is nothing less than stunning and completely believable as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a washed-up professional wrestling superstar from the 1980's who barely eeks out a meager existence by wrestling in run-down gyms and local auditoriums. He's got a messed up relationship with this estranged daughter (well played by Evan Rachel Wood, an actress who I have previously disliked over and over) that never seems to take a turn in the right direction. And this is to say nothing of his mega-crush on Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, excellent as usual and frequently nude), a single-mom stripper who exploits her body on stage much in the same fashion as Randy does in the ring. Siegel's screenplay dives into the obvious parallels between the stripping and wrestling worlds, making the case that both Randy and Cassidy are essentially the same people going through the same issues. I refuse to elaborate any more on the plot -- you should discover all of the amazing beats to this story on your own. Rourke, who with this performance announces to the film world that he's back for good, creates one of the most richly drawn screen characters of the decade; his work sits right next to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood and Benicio Del Toro in Things We Lost in the Fire, performances that I consider to be some of the best in recent memory. The wrestling action is appropriately bloody and visceral; it would have been dishonest for it to be portrayed any way else. The filmmakers want you to feel exactly what it's like to be in the ring and they really bring it. Professional wrestling is one of America's favorite sources of entertainment, and there is something distinctly American about The Wrestler, even while its themes of redemption are universal. And just wait for the incredible ending – it’s absolutely true to everything that has come before it. This is tough, magnificent filmmaking, and the best American film of 2008. If Rourke doesn't take the Oscar for best actor, then it'll be a shame, and a crime.

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