Title: The Wrestler
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei
Director: Darren Aronofsky
I have been a fan of Aronofsky since ‘Requiem for a Dream,’ even enjoying his more questionable works, and so I come to the last of his full length films I have yet to see, as well as being his most recently released work, and I entered with high expectations. Expectations, that sadly, were not met. This train-wreck of a film feels as disjointed as the emotions of the main character that we follow, and whilst the result isn’t dire, anyone familiar with his past repertoire may find is departure to more mainstream ideals more than a little disappointing.
The story follows pro-wrestler Randy ‘the Ram’ Robinson (Rourke), the height of his career 20 years ago, he is still struggling to make a living doing what he loves. After a particularly violent match, he collapses, returning to consciousness only to discover he had a heart attack, and as a result could no longer wrestle. With his first passion out of the question, he seeks to cure his loneliness by rekindling his relationship with his estranged daughter (Wood) and forming a new one with local exotic dancer Cassidy (Tomei).
The plot for the most part felt thin and generic, dressed up with a frowned upon motif but ultimately dealing with relationship issues that has been explored time and time again. For a film so heavily invested in building upon the relationships between the main characters, little was done with it. The profession of love interest performed by Tomei chosen so as to bluntly hit you with the fact that those in often looked down upon professions are still human (though then never expands on this), as well as accenting the lengths of Randy’s loneliness. The father-daughter relationship plays out like textbook routine stolen from your average TV soap opera, and the ending painfully predictable. The relationships felt so forced and cliché that forming any form of emotional involvement becomes near impossible.
But there is one relationship that I have yet to mention, the saving grace of this film, his devotion to wrestling. If there was anything to be truly commended here it is the naturalistic and believable portrayal of a sport often veiled in mystery, frowned upon for being ‘fake’ and derogatorily criticised and has altogether humanised the subject. It is the role Rourke was born to play, an ex-boxer struggling to find his feet himself, and whilst drama is not his usual acting forte, Rourke manages to show with absolute conviction how important the sport is to him in his life; the pain of each blow, the determination and yet the friendly showmanship between performers showing the entertainment in a new light.
Aronofsky always had a tendency for unusual techniques; his use of ‘snorri-cam,’ facing the actor in ‘pi’; the continued experimentation with camera angles in ‘Requiem for a Dream;’ the all out bizarre plot-line of ‘The Fountain;’ but they always had some sense of purpose behind them. Here, his choice of angles seems somewhat arbitrary, following a character purposefully hiding his face so as to feel experimental but without any determinable intended effect beyond that, and the soundtrack sees Clint Mansell reprise his role, though he ultimately contributes little to the end result.
Whilst the film may have wrestling as a core ideal, and assuredly some of the behind-the-scenes work would be of interest to many wrestling fans, it isn’t the point it is trying to get across. It succeeds in showing how someone who has passion copes with being told he can longer do what he loves, dragging along by the heels a half-assed attempt at exploring human relationships. This wasn’t a bad film, simply a disappointing one, and with news of Aronofsky’s follow up film about a ballet dancer fighting her rival, I am left with the worry, have we already seen the best Aronofsky has to offer?