Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

The Wrestler

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

2 December

 

 

Big Daddy dies, 1997

On this day in 1997, the wrestler born Shirley Crabtree in Halifax, England, in 1930, died. Crabtree came from a wrestling family – his father, also named Shirley Crabtree, was a wrestler, as were his nephews Steve and Scott Crabtree (though they both wrestled under the name Valentine). Shirley Crabtree followed his father into the ring in 1952 (the same year that Vince McMahon was creating the WWF brand in the USA). With his 64 inch chest and blond hair, Crabtree became a prominent blue-eye (ie hero type) and won the European Heavyweight Championships twice before retiring in 1966. He returned in 1972 as a heel (ie bad guy) with the character of the Battling Guardsman before returning again in 1974 as Big Daddy, named after the Burl Ives character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Initially Big Daddy was a heel, an image that was reinforced when he formed a tag team with Martin Ruane, the 6ft 11in (2.11m) 685lb (311kg) wrestler known as Giant Haystacks, who would later become his arch rival. By 1977 Crabtree had returned yet again, again as Big Daddy, but this time as a blue-eye who wore a sequinned cape and arrived ringside draped in the national flag to the sound of We Shall Not Be Moved over the sound system. Big Daddy was, as his name suggests, big. This led to an ungainliness in his movements, though Crabtree turned this to his advantage by developing signature movements such as the Big Splash, which involved him dropping his bulky body belly first onto a prostrate opponent – at which point he would encourage the crowd to shout “Easy. Easy”. Big Daddy’s career almost came to an end when he Big Splash-ed Mal “King Kong” Kirk during a bout, and Kirk died (the coroner absolved Crabtree of blame, pointing to Kirk’s serious heart condition). Crabtree took the death personally, but continued wrestling into his 60s, though he became increasingly a static presence, against which lighter, prettier wrestlers would hurl themselves to little effect.

 

 

 

The Wrestler (2008, dir: Darren Aronofsky)

A reminder that Mickey Rourke is an actor who operates outside the pantomime arena, when he wants to, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is all about age, breakdown, decay and the everyday heroics necessary to just keep going. The fact that it stars Rourke, who famously abandoned acting to become a boxer, then returned to movies years later a collagen-lipped beat-up reminder of his former self, makes this film, at some level, the story of Rourke himself. And it’s a heartbreaker, the journey with the small-fry wrestler at the wrong end of his career, a tough guy with a heart of gold, a good word for everybody, a man who’s gone a bit deaf, works on the meat counter (nice touch) at a supermarket where he’s bossed about by a ballbusting dick, whose daughter hates him, whose lap-dancer girlfriend isn’t even really his girlfriend. It’s the insights into the wrestling game that make this film so powerful – the tanning salon, the hair extensions, the growth hormone and the painkillers, the eye-opening and eye-watering use of a staple gun. And Aronofsky and documentary cinematographer Maryse Alberti shoot it all arthouse – dark, handheld, grainy, many key scenes are so underlit you have to squint through the mood to work out what’s going on. As for plot – there isn’t much of one, we’re just following Randy “The Ram” Robinson from one indignity to the next, while he fumbles about trying to work out what to do with what’s left of his life now his career is over, or as good as over. Is it a metaphor for the baby boomers, more generally? It can be if you want it to be, though Aronofsky has learnt from some of the excess of earlier films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) and plays it straight. He’s blessed to have Rourke, and to have Evan Rachel Wood as the estranged daughter, Marisa Tomei as the girlfriend who isn’t a girlfriend. And to have all those New Jersey locations, looking every bit as busted, chipped and beaten up as The Ram himself. As for Rourke, wait till you hear his “I’m an old broken down piece of meat speech”.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Should have been Rourke’s Oscar winner
  • Aronofsky’s best film – yes, better than Black Swan
  • Real insight into to how the theatrical world of wrestling works
  • Bruce Springsteen’s tender title song

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

The Wrestler – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Wrestler”

  1. The Wrestler won the Golden Lion a few days ago in Venice. Obviously that's going to build up some high expectations but director Darren Aronofsky introduced it as a "simple little film" and he didn't want the movie to get over-hyped. He said it's been a busy week as he only finished the film 6 days ago!!

    Randy "The Ram" Robinson, played brilliantly by Mickey Rourke, was a star professional wrestler in the 1980s. He had a legendary pay-per-view match against the Ayatollah in his prime, his own Nintendo game, posters, "Best of The Ram" VHS series and legions of fans who worshipped him. The film begins in the present day with The Ram collecting a paltry sum of money for his latest fight only to discover he's been locked out of his trailer home because he's behind on his rent. He has a good physique for his age – with the aid of steroids and tanning salons – he still has good friends in the local wrestling brotherhood and he enjoys hanging out with Cassidy (played by Marisa Tomei) at the strip club where she works. He's a likable guy and the neighbourhood kids look up to him as a hero, so it's easy to root for this washed-up old wrestler as he participates in choreographed, yet amazingly bloody, wrestling matches. He struggles to pay the rent while also searching for deeper meaning in his life as he knows that he can't wrestle forever. However, wrestling is the only thing he's good at, and he lives for those precious moments when he stands on the top turnbuckle and his adoring fans cheer his name – but once he steps out of the ring his life is a mess. He'd like to reconcile with estranged daughter Stefanie (played by Evan Rachel Wood) but she hates him after he abandoned her in her youth. He's never given her a birthday gift, probably because he doesn't know which day it is.

    There's a parallel story with Cassidy, an aging stripper. She also knows that her career is coming to an end, but unlike The Ram she seems to have plans after she retires, and her finances are in good order. They've obviously known each other for quite some time, and though there seems to be some mutual attraction Cassidy has always followed the rule "don't get involved with a customer". They have a complex relationship that changes throughout the film, but you can always feel that Cassidy cares about his well-being.

    This movie works because it feels so real. All the characters are so natural in their roles that you'll feel drawn into this world of wrestling. Mickey Rourke doesn't just play a wrestler, he is a wrestling star, he is Randy The Ram in every way. The wrestling scenes were also amazingly crafted and you can see Randy build off the crowd's excitement. The film does a great job of showing why so many fans love "fake" wrestling.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this little film but it's not for all tastes. It's gritty, raw, sometimes depressing, sometimes funny, and yeah I'll admit that I cried. A 9.5/10 for me and it's a must-see for wrestling fans (especially from 1980s era) and, obviously, anyone who enjoyed the previous works of Aranofsky and/or Rourke. Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei were both outstanding and Evan Rachel Wood also shone in her supporting role.

  2. The Wrestler is a drama centered around an aging professional wrestler past his prime. It's so much more than that. You don't have to be a fan of wrestling to enjoy this film. The wrestling part of it can be put aside as a back story. Randy "The Ram" could be in any other profession, doing any other thing and could be in the same situation. That's what's so great about it. He's just a lonely guy, whose life seems to have passed him by. A middle aged man who doesn't have much going for him. Sure, he's a wrestler, but he needs wrestling more than wrestling needs him. He needs it to feel important, to feel like a somebody. He really has nothing to show for himself, no wife, just a daughter he hasn't been there for his whole life. Missed opportunities. He's sad and alone and we really do feel for him.

    A closer bond seems to be forming between him and his stripper friend, played by Marisa Tomei, who seems to be in a similar situation as he is. The middle aged stripper who seems to have a real connection with "The Ram" is shown in another misunderstood profession. We all may not be as different as we may think. Health problems compromise his wrestling career as he tries to deal with the real world and rebuild his relationship with his abandoned daughter. The scenes with Evan Rachel Wood (his daughter) are touching. Beautifully done. Rourke's character portrayal of the Ram is one of the best in a long time. He's not just acting, he transforms into the character on screen. It's amazing to watch. All the credit he's getting is truly deserved.

    The film is Directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also directed Requiem for a Dream. He does a beautiful job showing the sport with realism. The film respects the wrestlers and their world, and expects the same from the audience. This film is done in a style that's so real, so honest, so amazing, in easily one of the best films of the year. All around great performances and great direction. Definitely worth checking out sometime.

  3. Nicholas Cage? Bruce Willis? Wrong. Never would have worked. No one else could have played Randy "The Ram" Robinson with the compassion and energy he brings to the role–it's painful to see the fading professional wrestler coming to terms with both his mortality and the emptiness of his life outside the ring, and this is largely due to Rourke's excellent acting. Twenty years after the defining match of his career, Randy is still a fan favorite and loving his work–until he suffers a heart attack. The film follows the gentle giant as he tries to adjust to living without wrestling, reconnect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), and kindle a bond with a friend who works in a strip club (Marisa Tomei).

    This isn't just a film about professional wrestling, but Aronofsky gets that part right. He does a beautiful job showing the sport with realism without mocking it: he highlights the humor, but never makes fun of it. He doesn't just deconstruct the mythical image of wrestlers' performances, but he also destroys their apparent rage towards each other. It's clear that these guys are friends–they care about and respect each other. These other wrestlers in the film are all played by professionals, and they do a great job with the acting. The film respects them and their world, and demands the same from the audience.

    The other supporting characters are strong as well. Tomei and Wood's characters could easily have fallen into clichés, but they give Randy some of his best moments on screen. Tomei's storyline, especially, serves as a nice parallel and contrast to Randy's. Wood's could use a little more juice, but her story arc does the same. Both are effective.

    Another notable aspect of the film is its music. The character of Randy is a big '80s rock fan, and for the film, they got the rights to use Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine." A special thanks at the end of the film went out to Axl Rose. On the softer side, Bruce Springsteen wrote "The Wrestler" for the credits, and its sweet melancholy serves as the perfect coda for the film.

    Overall, 'The Wrestler' is great. It's a rich, round film that smoothly weaves together pathos and comedy and soul. It's funny and dramatic, tear-jerking and tough. Definitely a must-see this winter.

  4. Very rarely an artistic come back is so pointed, so truthful and/or so honest. Mickey Rourke is extraordinary here and I can assure you, he'll break your heart. "It's not over until you (pointing at the audience) tell me its over" Who was saying that? Mickey Rourke himself or his character? Both, I think both. I felt a chill run down my spine, the kind of chill you feel when confronted by an unvarnished truth. Darren Aronofsky is definitely someone to watch and to follow. His characters face limit situations and he finds torturous paths for them to travel. What makes the whole thing endurable is the unmistakable signs of self awareness. In "The Wrestler" the painful meeting between Ram and his daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood) have the overwhelming weight of the truth without a hint of sentimentality. As we are approaching Oscar season I imagine already a fight to the finish between Sean Penn for "Milk" and Mickey Rourke for "The Wrestler" They both deserve the highest accolade. What a year!

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