Friday, February 13, 2009

Down for the count, but up for an Oscar?

Maybe it's because I used to be a fan of the WWF (shout-out to my jabroni Mike!), but I really enjoyed Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging, washed-up professional wrestler who's struggling to make ends meet. The genius of this film lies in the casting of Mickey Rourke, an aging, washed-up actor, in the title role. Admittedly, the sight of the unkempt (and seemingly unwashed) Rourke on the red carpet makes my nose crinkle in distaste, but after watching The Wrestler, I understand why he's won both the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for Best Actor. He delivers a helluva performance as The Ram, embodying every inch and aspect of the tired, lonely man who's abused his body for decades, neglected his family, and basically screwed up his life. The raw emotions of physical and emotional pain play across Rourke's lined face with more eloquence than one would expect of the greaseball he appears to be, and his Ram comes through as gruff yet gentle, brutish yet broken, the contradictions working rather beautifully.

In spite of being a professional has-been, a deadbeat dad and a junkie to boot, Ram is very much a sympathetic character, and I found myself wincing not only when he takes a steel chair to the head or a staple gun to the chest, or when he cuts himself open with a razor blade, but also when he is locked out of his trailer by the park manager because he can't cough up the month's rent, or when his attempts to reconnect are rebuffed by his estranged daughter (
the frighteningly pale Evan Rachel Wood, who surprises with dramatic prowess belying an ex-girlfriend of Marilyn Manson). Rourke's best scene is one with Wood, where the tears flow openly and honestly without a hint of overacting or melodrama.

That lovely moment aside, Rourke is at his finest whenever he shares screentime with Marisa Tomei, who plays Ram's favorite stripper at his regular strip joint. Tomei, also staging a cinematic comeback of sorts, is age-defyingly hot as single mom Cassidy, whose fondness for Ram conflicts with her policy of not getting attached to customers. Like Ram, Cassidy is past her prime and knows it, and this common angst draws the two together. Tomei certainly earned her Best Supporting Actress nominations not only for bringing heart to an otherwise soulless role, but also for working the strip pole like a pro.

The whole movie is shot in the style of a mockumentary, providing a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of professional wrestling, which any WWF/WWE fan would get a kick out of. There are fleeting bits of levity, and some rather graphic shots of bloody injuries, but most striking is the sense of woeful wretchedness that permeates an industry known for its pomp and braggadocio. It's hard thinking of the likes of Hulk Hogan or the Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin as tragic heroes, but as seen in The Wrestler, these modern-day gladiators are no less human once they step outside their squared arena.

Overall I was suitably impressed by the quality of this movie, from the directing to the cinematography to the screenplay to the outstanding acting, right down to the deliberately "bitin" ending. That it made me nostalgic for the good old days of professional wrestling was a bonus. Moreover, I have newfound respect for Mickey Rourke-- the man could show up on Oscar night looking like an oily Vegas street pimp, but if he walks away with Best Actor honors, it would only be his due. And that's the bottom line, because Ailee said so.


Post a Comment

<< Home