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Film Review/The Rourke Factor: The Wrestler

Posted on by sam

The Wrestler/The Rourke Factor: How The World Learnt To Stop Being Pissed Off And Give The Guy A Bafta

Director: Darren Aronofsky (2008)

…………Previously, on Sam’s Pretentious film reviews………..

A Chav on a train led to me reading The Metro, wherein I encountered an interview with some guy who viewed Mickey Rourke as the greatest waste of potential in his generation. Realising I knew next to nothing about Rourke, I decided to review of a bunch of his films, starting with Angel Heart.

……….And now, the exciting continuation of Sam’s pretentious film reviews/Rourke Factor…………..

Ok, so I started with Angel Heart simply because that was the film mentioned in The Metro article, I decided to jump forward in time to The Wrestler next because;

A)     It’s a film I’ve always had a bit of a problem with and liked the idea of exploring why

B)     It’s one of the few Mickey Rourke Films I was actually aware of

C)     It’s a film about wrestling, something I still watch (and even sometimes enjoy)

D)     It’s a film by a director I really rate (Darren Aronofsky, if you can’t be bothered to go back and look just under the tile)

E)      It’s my film review, so I’ll do what I like.

Early plot summary……………..

Quite the change

Mickey Rourke (bad surgery version) plays wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (real name Robin Ramzinski). In his youth Randy was a heartthrob and all round good guy who once defended the honour of America against the evil Ayatollah (Earnest ‘The Cat’ Miller, a charismatic yet absurdly awful wrestler in real life, whose only claim to fame was dancing like a 70’s Blaxploitation stereotype). By defending America’s honour, I of course mean he wrestled the dastardly Ayatollah at a sold out Madison Square Garden (the wrestling equivalent of winning a golden globe).

Sadly, that was twenty years ago and the present day sees an aged Randy the Ram who believed way too much of his own hype (a common trait in wrestling), falling on hard times as a result. He lives in a trailer park, wrestles at small fry, violent independent shows, uses copious amounts of steroids, is estranged from his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) and to make ends meet (independent shows don’t pay a lot) he works in a crappy supermarket. Bit depressing really.

It’s not all doom and gloom in Randy the Ram’s world though, on the one hand he certainly commands the respect of the independent wrestlers he encounters, and the fans, which says a lot, because if there’s anything more fickle on this earth than a wrestling fan I have yet to encounter it. He also has a ‘slightly more than client’ relationship with a stripper called Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) who dances loco but isn’t a ho no. Cassidy it turns out, is only her stage name and really she’s Pam (oooh, a subtext about public identity), a hard working single mother who only wants what’s best for her child and blah blah blah, I’m getting depressed again.

Unfortunately for Randy the Ram, and fans of positive plot developments, the inevitable cost of living a fast paced life encompassing heavy drinking and drug taking occurs, and he suffers a heart attack. This leads to doctors telling him not to be a wrestler anymore, something I assume any sane doctor would have told him long before he had a heart attack (that link is probably one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read). All of which leads to Randy the Ram reflecting on his past existence while trying to forge a new one, attempting to heal old wounds with his daughter, do cocaine with girls half his age and consider one last final hurrah in the ring.

Depressed, my plot summary finishes…….

Tangent……………. Have you ever had one of those moments where you know something is funny, but you just can’t seem to laugh at it, and the more you try, the less funny it becomes?

I just don't find it funny!

For me that’s The Wrestler, not in a funny way that’d be morbid and Aronofsky doesn’t really do funny, no I mean in a quality way. I know there’s quality across the board in The Wrestler and there’s absolutely no reason for me not to like it, but for some reason, I can’t get into it. Believe me I’ve tried, I’ve watched this damn film like half a dozen times now, but something about it just doesn’t work for me, I’ll get into what I think it is later, but first, let’s go quality.

Aronofsky films are always beautifully crafted and The Wrestler is no exception, the camera work is that mixture of handheld and shaky cam that makes pretentious wannabes like me melt and it creates a slow, tired pace which reflects the character of Randy the Ram perfectly. There’s that filmic wash meets grain look that every big (in comparison to our own) budget independent production seems to want to use nowadays, but The Wrestler was released a year before the 2009 influx of films looking like they’d been filmed underwater that led to the novelty wearing off.

Then there’s the acting, Aronofsky films always have that realism stuff going on, and the guy is legendary in some circles for how much background research he (and his cast) do in order to prepare. The Wrestler has that, and the cast to pull it off. Rourke is great (more on that in The Rourke Factor later) and there’s a particularly good scene involving him working on a deli counter that was improvised and is probably my favourite bit in the whole film (it actually showed character development, more on that later), Marissa Tomei has always been a good character actor, and she gets more screen time than has recently been the trend to show it here. She’s also in incredibly good nick for her age, and brings a surprising amount of energy and sex appeal to the screen. I definitely would, she wouldn’t, she has far too much class for me, but I would. Evan Rachel Wood (who was the best thing about The Ides of March) isn’t afforded as much screen time, or given as well fleshed out a character, but the lady can act and she demonstrates the fact (not that it’s needed) once again.

Just a superb actress

Finally, the attention to detail is awesome. Calling myself a fan or wrestling is actually a bit like saying George Lucas has a vague interest in acquiring wealth, I’m a sort of wrestling Fanboy, although admittedly less so in recent years. Ok that’s a lie, I’m a fanboy and have been for years, which is why we did a People with Happy Fingers episode with a friend and aspiring wrestler called Jack (who incidentally possesses a gold star for introducing me to the film REC). In The Wrestler it’s cool to see real independent companies whose DVD’s I own, like Combat Zone Wrestling (had a good 2012) and Ring of Honor (didn’t) used as settings, and even more pleasingly, real independent wrestlers used. It’s a cool and realistic touch and earns the production some of those filmic Kudos that I generally hold on to as tight fistedly as Scrooge McDuck to gold coins.

That being the case, why doesn’t The Wrestler click for me? In a nut shell the reason is thus; the Wrestler is a pretty weak story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fabulously acted weak story, but it’s a weak one none the less. Randy the Ram isn’t, for the most part at least, that interesting a character. He’s not very sympathetic and he doesn’t really ever do anything for me to start liking him. Yes he wrestles matches as a good guy but his opponents are displayed as performers putting on a show, so there’s no sense of right against wrong. As a character, he’s just a bit of a prick, without being a big enough prick for it to go the other way and dislike him enough to be interested that way. There’s just too little of importance that happens. There’s a scene where Randy gets one of the trailer park children to play an old wrestling computer game with him, the kid plays but soon gets bored and leaves, that kid is the audience.

Alternatively, let’s take what’s seen as one of the most shocking scenes (except to Iranian newspapers), the hardcore match with real life wrestler Necro Butcher (who in real life is a really intelligent man for someone who gets cut open with forks for a living). Apart from being violent, what does the scene achieve in terms of character? Previously all we’ve seen Randy the Ram do is purchase and use steroids, wrestle a decent but short match against a perfectly nice guy with a Mohawk, get a dance in a strip club and be mocked by his boss (played well but all too briefly by Todd Barry). Ok the last one makes me slightly sympathetic, but the hardcore match does absolutely nothing to further this. It’s interesting to watch in a violent way, but it holds the story up as opposed to developing it, and it doesn’t do anything to make Randy the Ram seem any more interesting.

Admittedly it’s the hardcore match that sort of leads to the heart attack, and maybe after the match it can be said Randy the Ram has a bit of a road to Damascus moment where he realises he can’t go on this way, but that’s about it. It doesn’t achieve much beyond being visually shocking to those who haven’t previously encountered staple guns in wrestling (or barbed wire, or thumbtacks, or a loser gets infected with aids match).

Too much of The Wrestler is dedicated to stuff that doesn’t really develop or go anywhere, the first hour contained two wrestling matches, a couple of strip club scenes between Randy and Cassidy where nothing important or of lasting consequence happened, and a very brief scene in the crappy supermarket where he works. Only the scene where he works showed me anything in terms of character. It made for a fairly dull first hour. There is a brief pick up when Randy’s heart attack occurs because then we see more of the man and his relationship with his daughter, but that shit should be nearer the beginning, otherwise the inevitable occurs, and the story becomes rushed. Which is exactly what happens in The Wrestler, as soon as the Randy and daughter story gets going it has its legs cut off and ends, not because there wasn’t more to do, but because there wasn’t time to do anything else, and then it’s just sort of dropped for the ending.

And now we come to the ending. I won’t spoil it but I will say this; when you’re character begins and ends a film, in basically the exact same position except for a scar on his chest, that’s not good character development. Also, remember when the Soprano’s decided to just end, and how dickish everyone thought that was, yeah, you’ve been warned.

It’s not that The Wrestler isn’t quality, or it didn’t deserve awards and recognition, because I accept it’s a well-crafted, good looking film, but for me at least, it’s a film where far too much occurs off screen and is simply mentioned by the characters in passing, leading to far too little of meaning actually occurring on screen.

And now on to Mickey Rourke and The Rourke Factor (yeah that name stays)……………

The Dream










ROURKE FACTOR: The Wrestler is a massive film in Rourke’s career as  it’s effectively the film that ‘brought’ him in from the cold. His career by this point was limited to playing villains in B movies (sometimes badly edited ones by Tony Scott during his EDIT EDIT EDIT phase), and playing supporting roles for Robert Rodriguez (but not partner in crime Tarantino, who dropped him from Death Proof A.K.A the more watchable half of Grindhouse, in favour of Kurt Russell). Rourke accepted a fraction of his usual rate in order to play the role of Randy the Ram, went through the gruelling training required to pull it off, and by all accounts took his role in the film completely seriously. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson and Rourke himself, and it gives his performance that touch of realism that is a staple of Aronofsky films.

Was he good, fuck yeah, he’s superb in The Wrestler, he deservedly won a best actor BAFTA for his performance, and some of my more learned film friends claim if he hadn’t been a prick for so many years he would have won the OSCAR too. I don’t really go for the whole awards thing, because I don’t think limiting a year’s worth of films, and performances down to a ‘best of’ is natural (or healthy), but what I liked about the decision of the BAFTA committee to give the nod to Rourke is how much it meant to him. In his acceptance speech Rourke seems genuinely moved and probably most importantly, humble. He’s also pretty honest about it, admitting he’d been ‘fucking up his career for the last fifteen years’, also there’s that glib humour the smart portion of British people love. Two films down and so far, all I can say is I want to watch more, I’ve yet to see Rourke on a bad day, but on a good day, he’s been awesome, even if his face has morphed ridiculously.

Written By Sam ‘Fanboy enough to still play Extreme Warfare Revenge 4.2 by Adam Ryland’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

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