The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)

I remember I used to watch the now defunct WWF's wrestling matches on tube sometimes, thinking how cool it was, those pro wrestlers in the ring body-slam each other, wondered why the umpires were scared of them, pushed to the ground by them without getting any punishment. Until I was told all of that were staged, it is an act, no different than the live action of actors perform on art theatre's stage. Despite knowing the truth, I never dismiss wrestling just because it is simulated. To me, the wrestlers are something like a cross between a stuntman and actor, a sportsman-figure who choreograph the moves, minimize the risk of injury from the stunts they pull during a match.

Without taking into account of the short movies Darren Aronofsky has made, The Wrestler is his 4th directorial feature. Each of those are distinctive to each other, almost emphatically avoids comparison. Shot in grainy images, this low budget work focus on Randy, an aging, faded wrestling star struggle to cope with his life outside the wrestling ring. The movie begins with beautiful montage, showing the promotional event posters, ticket stubs, newpaper cutting, tag along with live commentator sound clips, all these illustrate the glory Randy had 20 years ago.

The fame he had did not pave way for ample life. Now Randy lives in a rented deteriorate caravan, still he barely afford to pay the rent for it. He work part timely at a supermarket, supervised by a jerk manager who makes everything hard to Randy every chance he has. While he befriended a stripteaser (Marisa Tomei), she is adamant not to allow their relationship to go beyond customer/worker boundary. All the setbacks above are incomparable to the loves of his life: Wrestling and his estranged daughter.

Akin to Robert Downey Jr, it is good to see the B-movie starrer Mickey Rourke back into the movie limelight again after a series of troubled private life. Here he truly put up a gritty, tour de force performance playing a sympathetic washed up pro-wrestler. Sorry, scratch that, he did not ACT in it, MICKEY ROURKE IS RANDY "THE RAM" ROBINSON, he lives and breathes through the character. He did not have to try hard because of the blatant juxtapose between Randy the wrestler and the real Mickey the actor. One even can draw parallel situation with Cassidy the stripper, both are now in the twilight of their respective career, but still desperately clinging on whatever they are best at. The admirable Marisa Tomei put up a brave performance as stripper in some nude scenes.

There are some realistic but not excessive wrestling violence shown: the act of blading, the sadistic using of staple gun, barb wire wrapped crutch, glass panel to depict the dark side of the sport. Against his doctor's advice, Randy knows very well with his heart conditon he is risking his life if he continue to do what he does best. Without a shred of doubt he would rather die in the ring with the cheering audience rather than dying without trying. He told Cassidy the only place he gets hurt is "out there" @ the real world. Wrestling is the blood in his veins, he breathes, live with the sport.

 There are moments where camera angle were shot from the back of Randy's big shoulder frame, it's like we are viewing the world through Randy. The first time he prepares to work at the deli counter, he is so pump up, the tracking shot follows from behind Randy walking from the supermarket back rooms towards deli counter, made him looks like he is walking out from dressing room to the arena ready to rumble in the ring. Even the sounds of roaring audience are heard in the background. I guess this is what Randy must felt at that time, he detested working at the supermarket yet he motivated himself to go for it. In a way, it reminds me of myself sometimes. *chuckle*

The end comes full circle when Randy goes back what he does best: Donning his signature move - Ram Jam accompany by the noise of cheering and booing from the audience. The speech he gave to the rowdy audience at the end is as heartbreaking as you can get. Tell me that you do not move to tears when the movie faded to black with Bruce Springsteen's title track plays. To cite The Wrestler as a wrestling movie is like saying Stallone's Rocky is a boxing movie. Aronofsky's tale of a washed up wrestler is my generation's Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980).

1 star = Pathetic, SowYau feel ashamed of watching it
2 stars = Off the mark material, approach with caution
3 stars = Generally good, you should watch it if it's your favourite genre
4 stars = excellent, strongly recommended
5 stars = A classic status? only time will tell. But it is definitely in SowYau's Hall of Fame List