Hollywood loves a good comeback story. Topping many of the ‘best-of’ film lists of 2008 and fresh from a storming Golden Globes sweep ‘The Wrestler’ arrived in the UK last week, in lieu of ’Slumdog Millionaire’ (the most overated film of the year so far) I thought I’d give Aronofsky’s latest effort the full cinema treatment. It’s good, it’s perfectly entertaining and definitely worth catching but for me eluded any sort of quality that would catapult this film into any sort of award territory. That said, I suspect Rourke will get it, lets examine why….
Mickey Rourke is Randy The Ram, a 52 year old washed up wrestler who is some twenty years past his prime. Out of the limelight, Randy continues to perform in backstreet bouts, underground wrestling tournaments which have a slightly sordid and vaguely pathetic aura to them as Randy and his veteran peers desperately claw together meager purses to supplement their poorly paid manual day jobs. One of these bouts results in numerous injuries and Randy ends up in hospital with a serious warning that his heart cannot take any future strain, he must abandon his love of the ring or risk a terminal relapse. Save for a fledgling romance with mature stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, luminous as usual) Randy is alone in the world, he has no family save an estranged daughter with whom he desperately attempts a reconciliation during the movie. One last chance for glory is waiting in the wings however, a twenty year anniversary re-match with Randy’s on stage nemesis ‘The Ayatollah’ which will cement his legend in the annals of wrestling history should he survive such a grueling and potentially lethal competition…..
Well, I have to say I was initially sceptical. I like Mickey Rourke but the whole premise of the film left me cold, could I really care about some irrelevant has-been hoping to achieve some final epiphany? On paper it’s riddled with cliches – stripper with a heart of gold, one final bout to regain our heroes passed glory, a medical condition which throws the whole endeavour into jeopardy, a hostile daughter with the power to buoy his shattered spirit? That’s all here but you know what, it works. Aronofsky seems to have left the flashy camera work textbook at home and the film is all the more powerful for it, after the turgid mess that was ‘The Fountain’ it is really rewarding to see a story told in a linear, straightforward and effective fashion. This is Rourke’s film though, 100% through and through – he is in every single scene and the real world connection to his difficult career is explicit without feeling too forced. It’s a good performance although I did think people are perhaps obfuscating the real world with the cinema world, you very quickly feel genuine sympathy for Randy and want to see him succeed so when he inevitably fucks up some of the relationships he is attempting to resurrect you feel the betrayal along with his friends and family. To its final credit the film doesn’t quite degenerate into any ‘Rocky‘ style uplifting training montages as it moves toward its climax, more critically it has the guts not to tie up all the loose ends and instead leaves the film on a ambiguous note which I admired, I’ll not elaborate except to say it is refreshing to see such a character study conclude in such a unconventional fashion. Finally, this is the Mickey Rourke I will always treasure, I hope this performance leads to more work for him as in conjunction with his recent turn as the perfectly cast Marv there is proof that he is a performer with some remaining mileage.
So then, sports films. Not exactly my genre of choice or expertise but there are some movies of this ilk that I hugely admire and enjoy, this is a favourite and I think I have to link again to this and it’s sequel which treads similar ground to ‘The Wrestler’. One last link is to ‘Ali‘ which I caught again this week and enjoyed much more then when I first caught it a few years ago, it was much more substantial and impressive on a second viewing. Anyway, speaking of competition and combat I see that the Oscar nominations have finally been announced and at first glance I am aghast at some of the omissions and inclusions – I’ll try to get up my annual predictions and comments soon.