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The Wrestler: Top 3 of 2008

February 15, 2009

I had pretty high hopes for The Wrestler. Its director is responsible for one of the most memorable films of the past decade with 2000’s Requiem For A Dream and the praise for Mickey Rourke’s performance in the film has been overwhelming, with a number of sources claiming him the favorite for Best Actor. I also had a couple of people whose film opinions I hold in high regard tell me it was their favorite movie of the year, so even though I quasi-hated Aronofsky’s last film, The Fountain in 2006, The Wrestler had me quite excited to watch it.

When I heard that Darren Aronofsky was making a movie about a retired professional wrestler trying to deal with life after fame, I was already hooked, so it’s no surprise that I loved the story. I’d say it’s criminal that writer Robert Siegel (former Editor-In-Chief of The Onion) didn’t get a nomination, but I’ve only seen two of the five films nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category (Wall-E and In Bruges), so I’m not really sure. Regardless, the team involved here did more for character development within a couple months of Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s life than David Fincher and company could accomplish over eighty years in the life of Benjamin Button. No matter the case, anyone that can cause emotional resonance utilizing a dead beat professional wrestler who might as well be Hulk Hogan gets kudos from me.

Aronofsky has a tendency to make his presence overwhelmingly known in his projects. Pi was just flat out weird, Requiem For A Dream was a masterpiece, utilizing close-up vignettes for drug use and an unforgettably haunting and hypnotic score, and The Fountain might as well have been called Pretentious Shit. The director decides to take a more subtle approach with The Wrestler, displaying his uniqueness by filming the movie with a hand-held camera that gives it a documentary-like aesthetic. It’s almost like we’re taking a look at a couple of months of the life of a real person rather than watching a movie with fictional characters.

Mickey Rourke deserves all the praise he’s received for this film. As many have said, the role was built for him and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character. They pretty much took Rourke’s life and paralleled it with Randy Robinson’s and then subbed out “acting” for “professional wrestling.” I still think Frank Langella might be the favorite for Best Actor, but I don’t think Rourke winning would be an upset at all. Marissa Tomei also earned a nod for Best Supporting Actress, and while she looks great at 40+ playing a stripper, her performance wasn’t one that people are going to remember years from now.

I really can’t say enough about how good this movie was. There are so many good scenes in it that I don’t want to waste my time describing each one… a couple of personal favorites are The Ram working in a deli interacting with customers and The Ram at a fan fest signing with minimal attendance looking around at the other fallen wrestlers and seeing a bit of himself in each one as the melancholy score plays in the background. I also loved the ending, which has received a few complaints for its ambiguity. I don’t think it’s ambiguous at all, however, and I said “Credits” two seconds before they started, so I clearly thought it was a perfect spot to end the film.

When all is said and done, The Wrestler stands as one of my three favorite films of 2008, right up there with Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight. It’s without a doubt a must see, if not spectacular film, that will probably grow even stronger in viewers’ minds over time.

Score: 8.5/10 (Must Own/Potentially Classic)

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