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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Wrestler

The Wrestler is not a great movie, but it features a searing performance by Mickey Rourke which eradicates the line between the movies and real life. Rourke's performance is a puzzle, it alone makes the movie relevant and yet at times the closeness of the story to Rourke's personal narrative is jarring and distracting. The film's other performances are fine, although I have to question whether Marisa Tomei really did enough to earn an Oscar nomination. Evan Rachel Wood is very good in a small role as the daughter to Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson.

One of the principal problems with The Wrestler is that the film blatantly asks you to feel sorry for The Ram without really providing any justification for it. Arronofsky and the screenwriter trivialize Robinson's decades of mistreatment to his daughter, and never even bring up the woman with whom Robinson had her. In scenes where Wood's character rejects The Ram, the film assumes we will feel sorry for the wrestler, but why should this be the case?

Should we feel sorry for people who do what they want, damn the consequences, and then aren't able to suffer those consequences? This is a question which can be applied to the film's star as well. Last fall there was an entirely inflated sense of rejoicing at the return of Mickey Rourke to stardom, as though we as a society should be in a rush to embrace him. Why? Am I being hard-hearted when I say that I don't really care about all the years we supposedly missed Rourke?

Anyway, the film does do a number of things right. I was never into wrestling at all, I always thought it was stupid and hated the idea that the outcomes were pre-arranged. That being said the film does evoke the era of big-time wrestling with appropriate nostalgia. The fake wrestling names are all pretty good, including Ram's rival the Ayatollah. The scenes where The Ram works at a deli counter are humorous, and the only occasion where Rourke's character shows anything close to a winning and sympathetic personality, save for an overtly self-righteous speech at the end.

Rourke's performance is impossible to ignore, but this movie feels smaller than it has a right to feel. There was a good story in here somewhere, but it feels more like a string of vignettes than a coherent story. Some of those vignettes are very good, and that earns the movie 5.4 out of 10.

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