The Wrestler

The days of spandex wearing muscle men flying through the air to pin their opponents on the canvas are far from over and in the U.S. professional wrestling is still big business. Back in the 80's it was huge and The Ram was one of the biggest stars on the circuit. Fast forward to the 21st century and he is a broken down old man who has nothing but his fading career to look back on. This is a brilliantly made film, directed in a claustrophobic documentary style by Darren Aronofsky and acted wonderfully by Mickey Rourke in the part he was born to play.

Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler

Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is a muscle bound wrestler with long dyed blonde hair and a liberal dose of fake tan. He was famous back in the 80's and at the peak of his career his epic bouts fighting the evil Ayatollah pulled in millions of viewers. He now lives in a trailer and fights up and coming youngsters in small town halls and sports centres. He has snorted, drank and laid his fortune and in the process he has alienated his daughter. He scratches a living from the fans who remember him but it isn't enough to make ends meet and his only genuine human connection is with a stripper called Cassidy.

His routine has changed little since his heyday and he prepares for fights by shaving, dyeing his hair and hitting the sun bed. He also pumps iron but with age his fading physique has to be propped up with the help of steroids. In order to find work he fights on the underground circuit and gets pulled into a bout involving barbed wire, tables and a staple gun. This is a far cry from what he is used to and when he is struck down by a heart attack he realises it way past time to sort his life out. The question is, is it too late for Randy?

The film was written by Robert D. Siegel and director Darren Aronofsky did an incredible job bringing it to the screen. He filmed the action in a subdued almost documentary style as though following Randy around with the camera often positioned just behind his shoulder. It gave the whole production a mood of deflation and faded glory and there are several truly poignant moments.

Mickey Rourke as The Ram in the ring

Nicolas Cage was apparently up for the role of Randy but he agreed to step aside for Mickey Rourke and there can be no doubt that this is the best performance Rourke has ever given. It is impossible not to sympathise with him even although he is a complete screw up. His career has been the only constant in his life and he seems unable or afraid to love anything or anyone else. His struggle to cope with the reality of his advanced years is really sad and apart from having exactly the right look, Rourke acts it tremendously well. Marisa Tomei provides excellent support as the local stripper and potential love interest Cassidy and Evan Rachel Wood plays his daughter Stephanie.

This is a powerfully affecting film which strikes exactly the right tone and every aspect of the production is beautifully handled. It feels authentic, it is captivating from start to finish and while The Ram is effectively quite a pathetic character you cannot stop yourself from investing in his plight and rooting for him to make it through in one piece.

Reviewed by Simon Hill

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