TIFF Review: The Wrestler


The Wrestler
109 Minutes // USA // Fox Searchlight
dir. Darren Aronofsky
Tuesday, September 9th, 2008. Ryerson Theater.
Second screening @ the 33rd Annual Toronto International Film Festival
Special Presentations Program.
starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei & Evan Rachel Wood

Darren Aronofsky brings us The Wrestler, his most tame film to date. It lacks the hip-hop montages for Requiem for a Dream/Pi, and the over stylization of The Fountain; this film is as simple as a film can get. With his long time collaborator Clint Mansell, Darren is able to create an excessively tense atmosphere for the film to thrive in. With a handheld camera and a genuine story, Aronofsky hits drama central with exceedingly strong direction and overly powerful, key directorial choices. His best work to date.

Headlining this extravagant piece of cinema is vintage actor Mickey Rourke (who hasn’t had the best of luck with his movie career as of late). He plays Randy “the ram” Robinson, a wrestler of a Hulk Hogan-esque stature; the long, bleach blonde hair, the huge built figure, and even just the wisdom that appears to beam out of his eyes. The story is very simple as well: it’s about Randy Robinson trying to keep his career as a wrestler alive and strong. We see into the deception of wrestling in the early stages of the film; mixed with funny and ironic dialogue; not for a moment coaxing the truth. With ‘van sant’ like tracking shots and quick edits when the material seems like its about to start lagging, the film is jaggedly made, but fluidly paced.

About thirty minutes into the film, The Ram faces a tragic situation that fills him with self-doubt and hinders his career, let alone his very existence. Because of this scenario The Ram has been thrown into, he wants to get closer to his daugher, Stephanie (played by the lovely Evan Rachel Wood). With all of his problems he only has one person to outlet to verbally, a stripper named Cassidy (played by Marisa Tomei). These are the only main characters of the film, and even Cassidy and Stephanie aren’t in the film all that much – the entire film is basically a pseudo-documentary on a worn down wrestler. Rourke’s performance as the wrestler is pitch perfect. He has that face that just works so well with everything about Randy Robinson – so much so that you’ll believe he is Randy Robinson. The subtle scenes (and no, I’m not even talking about most scenes where he has a lot dialogue, but uses the script to perfect his subtle being) in which, say The Ram is just sitting at a bar, drinking his liquor and appears to be thinking about his trials are some of the greatest scenes in the film – one in particular may be the best acted scene all year. When Rourke is in a “simple” role, he does his best work.  A beautiful and disheartening script by Robert Seigel. The entire cast is wonderful, and I’m certain this will earn Mickey Rourke his first Oscar nomination. The perfect film: ****/****