Tuesday 9 June 2009

Movie Review: The Wrestler

Asides from Beyond The Mat, there haven’t been many movies that have treated pro-wrestling seriously. Some, like Ready To Rumble were just plain farcical, and others like Paradise Alley hardly represent the real side of the sport/entertainment. Let’s face it – sports movies are hard. They should be easy...you’ve got characters with determination and drive, and number of ways of introducing antagonists and narrative conflict, and a sense of drama as games and matches progress. But the fact is that there’s more than that. The film needs to have characters who exist outside of their sport/team, and (what’s more) the film needs to interesting and engaging to movie-goers who may not actually have an interest in the sport itself. The Wrestler hits this mark on the head, containing enough in-references and feel for wrestling fans – but the majority of the story is about the characters outside of the ring...especially the protagonist: Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke).

The movie focuses around Robinson, a washed-up veteran wrestler. Once one of the most loved wrestlers of the eighties, he now finds himself struggling to pay the rent, and performing in small shows with plummeting attendance figures. He has a strange friendship with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), an aging stripper at the local strip club – the two seem to have feelings for one another, but aren’t quite able to articulate how they feel; or are possibly scared of the repercussions. Fed up with his present situation, Robinson begins to participate in hardcore or “garbage” wrestling matches, being driven through tables, sheets of glass and thumbtacks, in the vain hope of revitalising his career. Unfortunately, these high risk stunts and his increasing steroid use begin to take their toll, and after a particularly brutal match, Robinson suffers a near-fatal heart attack. Informed by doctors that he must quit wrestling, he begins to try and find his place in the real world.

All of the actors in the film are amazing. Rourke in particular manages to nail Robinson’s mixture of confident swagger and nervousness. Tomei plays a fully rounded character that we actually care about, and isn’t there merely as Robinson’s love interest. Their relationship is intriguing, heart-rending and beautiful. Plus, she gets her (rather nice) tits out. A lot.

Speaking as a wrestling fan, I felt that this film really managed to communicate the very real tragedy of the lives of more pro-wrestlers than I care to name. Far too many of the greatest wrestlers of the 80s ended up washed-out and playing shitty little venues to audience of less than a hundred...turning to drugs in desperation...and some languish there still. For the casual fan, wrestling is all capes and Lycra: an amusing piece of theatre to keep them entertained on a Sunday morning. They can push it away with a sweep of their hand, proclaiming it as “fake”, without a consideration for the toll that this rather intense art form takes upon its performers. The Wrestler highlights that darker side, and I think this is a good thing.

It’s also worth mentioning that there were a few nice little in jokes for wrestling fans. The cast use slang terms like “heel”, “face”, “spots” and “strap” – nothing hard enough to alienate a new audience, but I took a childish, giggling pleasure in understanding all of it. Cameo appearances from indie wrestlers such as Ron “The Truth” Killings and a staggering garbage match from Necro Butcher add to the fan pleasing giggle factor. Throw in some significant exposure for Ring Of Honor and Combat Zone Wrestling (my personal favourite independent wrestling circuits) and I'm a happy man!

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t without its flaws. It is rather slow paced, and this may not appeal to everyone. Whilst my interest was maintained, I felt that some sequences could have been truncated without losing anything in the bigger picture. Do we really need two minutes of Robinson lounging around in his trailer, before cutting straight to his arrival at the arena for his next show?

Also, some of the back story is left (perhaps intentionally) vague. The exact nature of the history between Robinson and his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) is left somewhat vague...as is the nature of the friendship that Robinson and Cassidy have formed. Some may not find this to be a very big deal, but I felt that it was something of a wasted opportunity, especially considering the astonishing performances throughout.

Ultimately, The Wrestler is a solidly made film. It’s not going to be one that people are still talking X amount of years from now, and in many ways it would be appropriate to say that the finished item isn’t the sum of its parts. It is, however, certainly worth checking out. Certainly no wrestling fan will be disappointed.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: Well...several wrestling matches, including those coming from CZW, which I have discussed before. Hell, for having a section of the film taking place within a CZW ring it gets an eight. – 8/10

Swearing: A fair amount, but not overwhelming. – 6/10

Sex/Nudity: Several scenes in a nightclub, including Marisa Tomei’s baps. I’d never have thought that I’d have particularly wanted to see them before, but having now seen them, I was very satisfied. Oh, yeah, and Rourke totally does someone from behind. – 8/10

Other points in favour:

Pro-wrestling finally has its Rocky/Raging Bull.

A special mention to Rourke for doing all his own wrestling stunts.

Evan Rachel Wood, whilst not as nude as Marisa Tomei, is still lovely.


Final score: 8/10 – A truly great film, mostly held together by the performances from Rourke and Tomei, and some truly amazingly shot wrestling sequences.

The Wrestler is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Thinking of buying this movie? Why not purchase it from the E14 Amazon Store? The price you pay is the same as buying from Amazon, and Amazon donate a percentage of the sales toward our hosting costs.

1 comment:

  1. Now, I cannot STAND wrestling. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not one of these people who wouldn't even give it the time of day. I've watched my fair share of it (more than my fair share, some would say) due to having a few friends over the years who were fanatical about it. I feel wholly justified in being able to say that I've given wrestling a fair chance and, in the light of this experience, I can't fucking bear it.

    This being said, I absolutely LOVED this movie. It's everything Brad said it is and more. It manages to be a superb film DESPITE the subject matter, really. I would be quite surprised if it didn't actually offend quite a few hardcore wrestling fans because of the extent to which it shatters the illusion that wrestling tries to present to its fans. In fact, when I left the cinema after watching it, there were two wrestling fans (with old school WWF t-shirts on and everything) who were saying that they found it to be a 'disgusting movie' because it didn't 'show enough respect for the sport'. Idiots.

    The only thing I really disagree with in this interview is Brad's assertion that this movie won't be remembered years from now. I would be very surprised if this film wasn't increasingly held up as a classic as the years go by. (Disclaimer: I've been known to be wrong before. Many, many times.)

    Oh, hang on. I forgot to insult Brad and Rob. Errr... you guys... errr... SUCK! Yeah, that'll get 'em where it hurts...