Review: ‘The Wrestler’

Although suffering from a formulaic story, Mickey Rourke will make you believe that Randy “The Ram” Robinson really existed.

In the 1980’s, pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was at the top of his game and adored by fans everywhere. Twenty years later, the physical and financial demands of keeping his look consistent and performing in matches every weekend are taking their toll, even as the number of fans who still remember him continues to wane. Randy reaches out to make a connection to a daughter he was never there for (Evan Rachel Wood) and a local stripper (Marisa Tomei) when a medical complication threatens his life, but will either be enough to fill the hole in his heart when the one thing he lives for is gone?

The story is as cliche as sequels are to Rocky. One way to view the film is that the character of Randy is merely selfish for validating his existence one match at a time in front of screaming fans and forsaking anyone else that cares about him. Another way to view it is that this is the only thing Randy has ever done that mattered to anyone, something he was good at when no one cared anything about him. Whatever your opinion of Randy as you watch the film unfold, the documentary-style film technique helps sell the idea that you’re watching th life unfold of a real person, and Mickey Rourke brings “The Ram” to life so believably that it’s hard to accept that he never really existed.

Unfortunately, the film tends to drag in the wrong places, as if intentionally bad editing by allowing a scene to go on too long was part of the process, pretending as if we’re seeing something the camera wasn’t supposed to see. A big problem is that the film doesn’t maintain this point of view throughout the film and changes perspective whenever it suits the filmmakers. Even from the opening of the film, whomever pieced together the long take of The Ram’s career in news clippings did a wonderful job… only to have it covered over with horrid titles that were illegible at best. You could compare this misstep to the equivalent of Ang Lee’s first Hulk film where he added only select, out-of-place elements to remind viewers that this was all based on a comic book, an element we were trying to forget and already too aware of.

Not to suggest that this is a waste of a great performance, but Rourke doesn’t play a character called Randy “The Ram” so much as he becomes him. From suffering the indignities of earning money away from the ring at a local supermarket to shopping for his own props before a blood match, it might have been more clever to recast everyone else as unknowns and push this as a “real” fake documentary in the spirit of The Blair Witch Project. As the film is cut now, every element of the film (other than Rourke’s performance) is just another reminder that it’s awards season once again.

(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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