The Wrestler (2008)

The Wrestler (2008)
  • Time: 109 min
  • Genre: Drama | Sport
  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood


This is a drama about an aging professional wrestler, decades past his prime, who now barely gets by working small wrestling shows in VFW halls and as a part-time grocery store employee. As he faces health problems that may end his wrestling career for good he attempts to come to terms with his life outside the ring: by working full time at the grocery store, trying to reconcile with the daughter he abandoned in childhood and forming a closer bond with a stripper he has romantic feelings for. He struggles with his new life and an offer of a high-profile rematch with his 1980s arch-nemesis, The Ayatollah, which may be his ticket back to stardom.


  • “The Wrestler” is a superior film that I would recommend to anyone. It is a character-driven story performed by a superior cast well-suited to their parts.

    The central story is about two people, Randy “The Ram” and Cassidy, two well-crafted characters who have mismanaged their lives and have to deal every day with the realities that come with that.

    Randy is portrayed by Mickey Rourke in a tour de force performance that blurs the lines between the character and the actor. “The Wrestler” is a comeback movie for Rourke, who bravely allows himself to be as vulnerable as an actor can be in depicting the washed-up wrestler. Randy still dresses and styles himself as the ring headliner of many years ago. His living quarters also reflect the lifestyle of a young man, though his face and body–bearing the scars of old battles–belie the truth. As age ravages his physical abilities and he is forced to face his own mortality, he tries to reenter the life of his estranged daughter. He also struggles to connect with a woman who is facing her own demons.

    Cassidy, portrayed by Marisa Tomei, is a stripper who also must face the realities of her profession. Both of them are performers who daily fight Time to remain in professions designed for young people. Cassidy, like Randy, has the emotional scars of a long battle. She feels dehumanized by her job and, resignedly, recognizes the continuing reality that men do not see her as a real woman or a mother (to her young son). Marisa Tomei, as usual, finds the heart of her character and exposes it for the audience.

    The film does a good job of placing these characters inside a world that is ruthless in its dehumanization of people. Randy takes a job at a grocery. The scenes in which his a**hole boss exacts his petty tokens of fealty are written with understatement and such an ear for truth. Some of the scenes of Randy manning the deli counter are with non-actor customers of an actual store.

    “The Wrestler” brings to the screen some of the toughest realities of life. The action is perfectly set in some real New Jersey locales, where Asbury Park and other locations have buildings and venues that are reminders of heydays long past. While the film celebrates the survivor instincts of Randy and Cassidy, it focuses on the demeaning trivialities of life and the undeniable degradation of time.

  • “Witness the resurrection of Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s deeply affecting film” reads a huge marketing poster of the Golden Lion winner at Venice. I would say exactly the same. And if you think The Dark Knight was snubbed at the Oscars, this was daylight robbery. The Academy owes Aronofsky a Best Picture and Director nomination here.

    The Wrestler stars Rourke in a comeback performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. It chronicles the ups-and-downs of the life of the Ram Jam wrestler twenty years after he first ruled the wrestling ring. He meets a stripper, Cassidy (played by Marisa Tomei), whom he forms a friendly bond with. And when things seem to look bright for Randy, he suffers a heart attack and is forced to retire from wrestling.

    For someone whose life is devoted to a passion and in which he now is unable to pursue, the sudden emptiness can be shocking and it can beget an emotional breakdown even for a grown, rugged man. Aronofsky makes this the cornerstone of his film rather than assembling a picture with an unnecessary series of lengthy wrestling fights.

    He wants to tell the story of Randy the Common Man. For a fighter like he is, Randy is subjected to emotional hurt and suffering as well. While he takes it well under the circumstances, Rourke portrays him as somewhat fragile and vulnerable. In the ring, he is a hero. Outside it, he is zero. Rourke is nominated here, and he very well deserves that Oscar as much as Sean Penn does for his portrayal as the gay politician Harvey Milk in Milk (2008).

    Wrestling is a fake sport made real by the documentary-styled filmmaking. Aronofsky opts for the ‘fly on the wall’ approach to scenes of Rourke in the trailer or restroom prior to a match, giving a sense of immediacy to what is going to happen. The Wrestler is an eye-opening film too because it allows viewers an intimate glimpse to how wrestlers work with one another and how they employ ‘cheating’ tactics to entertain their audience.

    Yet no matter how rehearsed the fight sequences are in real life or in this film, they are still physically punishing. When these wrestlers tumble down hard, we can feel their pain. And the violence and gore can be unsettling to viewers as well.

    The final few minutes of The Wrestler are probably the most heart-wrenching moments in all of 2008’s films. Because Rourke has so successfully delivered a complex screen protagonist, viewers not only sympathize for his character, but also understand why he makes the decision to continue wrestling despite his age and ailing health.

    The Wrestler is hardcore, gritty and vulgar, a reminiscent of Arononsky’s drug masterpiece, Requiem for a Dream (2000). Yet at its heart, it remains an enlightening and humanizing cinematic experience. A must-watch!

    GRADE: A (9/10 or 4.5 stars)
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