The world of BIG time wrestling is an enigmatic creature, part circus, part serious athletic prowess. A trainwreck waiting to happen. It places muscled freaks on display to satisfy the primal urges of their adorning fans, no less a spectacle than preening and prancing rock and rollers adoring stadium stages all over the land. Instead of windmill arm swings and high kicks, we get elbow smashes and body slams. It is this world that Mickey Rourke so convincingly inhabits in director Darren Aronofsky's riveting and raw feature The Wrestler that he has already been shortlisted for many year-end acting awards. To watch this hulking actor -- he put on 30 pounds of muscle and performed all of his wrestling moves and stunts -- is a truly exhilarating ride.
He plays the lonely Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a former '80s star champion whose time is just about up as he looks for glory in the ring one last time. Rourke is like a physically mutated version of real WWF wrestlers "Macho Man" Randy Savage morphed with "Diamond" Dallas Page. We feel for his aging body with a bad ticker, years of abuse from pills and spills, from alienating his gay daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), to looking for love in all the wrong places. In this case, a New Jersey strip club near his trailer park home, his muse a very toned and luscious Marisa Tomei as the aging single mom looking to move on from her equally dead-end gig.
And much like he did for Hanks in Philadelphia, Bruce Springsteen perfectly captures Randy's pathos with a very moving Tom Joad-like, Golden Globe-nominated track recorded for the film's end credits:
This is a real life gritty drama that examines the minutia of Randy's day-to-day sad sack life. Whether shilling potato salad behind the deli counter in his demeaning weekday gig, "drug" shopping with a fellow wrestler, or waiting for dwindling fans in high school gyms to take eight dollar Polaroids, this plays like a real documentary. Randy struggles with all of his demons as he ponders one last chance at glory by taking on his long-time nemesis "The Ayatollah," played with equal aplomb by former football player, kick boxer, and wrestler Ernest "The Cat" Miller.
Even if you loathe "Professional" wrestling, this is a must-see, outstanding movie that offers no excuses, nor phony moves, even though we suspect who will win and who might lose, inside and outside the ring. - Dusty Wright
Mr. Wright is a content creator and culture curator. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, a DJ at David Lynch's Transcendental Music Radio, the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and television. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released four solo CDs and one with folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.