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The Wrestler (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 109 Minutes

This is not an easy movie to watch, but what a performance by Mickey Rourke!

The story of a wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke), whose best days were 20 years ago, Randy is just holding on. He’s got no money and lives in a trailer. He wrestles just to keep bread on the table and his body is a mess.

Randy is alone and doesn’t like it, so he hopes he can strike up a relationship with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper, and re-establish a broken relationship with his daughter, Stephanie (Rachel Evan Wood).

Rourke, whose normal weight is 190 lbs., gained 45 pounds to get to the weight he shows in the film, 235. He didn’t do it by eating, but by working out, so that his body looks like the body of a professional wrestler.

Actually, the film could be seen as a roman a clef of Rourke’s own life that showed such promise in the ‘80s, but which never lived up to its potential. Rourke got a bad reputation and people felt he was impossible to work with, so he dropped out for five years and returned to his life as a prizefighter.

“As a boxer, I didn’t have any interest in or respect for wrestling as a sport,” says Rourke. “I took this job because I wanted to meet and work for (director) Darren Aronofsky.

“He wanted me for the role. He told me he could do it on a budget of $16 million and get a movie star, or on a budget of $5 million with me in the role. He said he wanted me.”

Rourke also said, “I only want to work for directors who are smarter than I am, and that’s Darren. He is extremely difficult to work for, but I really wanted to work with him.”

This is a grittily realistic film. Some of the scenes of the wrestling and what they do to their bodies, especially Randy, are almost impossible to watch without diverting your eyes. That rule is off, however, when Cassidy is onscreen because Tomei plays her almost constantly half naked.

The movie is far from perfect, however. There are several scenes that are little more than exploitive. There is no discernable reason for Tomei to be constantly naked. The scenes could easily have had her wearing clothes that covered her nipples, especially when she’s not dancing. But, no, most of the time she is onscreen, she is wearing either nothing on top or fish-net type clothes that expose her nipples.

Then there is one wrestling segment in which one of the contestants  uses a staple gun on Randy and then we see the staples being removed after the match. The matter-of-factness of someone having so little respect for his body is revolting.

In a Q & A, Rourke was asked about his two co-stars, Tomei and Wood. He praised Wood, especially one scene between the two of them. He said he “nailed it” on the first two takes, but Aronofsky kept wanting more takes. He couldn’t keep up the quality of his performance, but Wood kept getting better. Finally, Aronofsky called him aside and told him that Wood was “blowing him away.” He replied that he had told him that he had given his best on the first two takes.

But what was surprising was that he had nothing to say about Tomei.

Oh well, the movie isn’t perfect, but Rourke’s performance is worth the price of admission.

December 17, 2008