Billy Gray

Sulk Mania

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2008 at 11:34 pm

Randy “The Ram” Robinson, the hulking over-the-hill prizefighter in The Wrestler, is not the film’s only player looking for redemption. Star Mickey Rourke and director Darren Aronofsky also aim to revitalize their careers with the unassuming drama. Robinson’s floundering career in the ring has left his personal life a shambles; his estranged daughter Stephanie (Rachel Evan Wood) detests him and his only love interest is the reluctant stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, in another role with a single digit costume budget). After a heart attack and failed attempts at stability with both women, Randy enters the fray one last time. But Rourke’s and Aronofsky’s naturalistic performance and direction suggest that neither career will burn out anytime soon.

The Wrestler is Aronofsky’s first feature to deal with human destruction working from the outside in. Pi, Requiem for a Dream and the misguided The Fountain all examined the effects a ravaged mind could have on the body. But Randy’s punishment begins externally. It comes in the gruesome, hard-to-watch form of body slams, folding chairs and staple guns. Fans that had to turn away from Requiem’s close-ups of track marks and plunging hypodermic needles: you have been warned. Fittingly for a movie about the physical, The Wrestler is the least cerebral of Aronosfky’s films in tone and production values. Robert Siegel’s dialogue is restrained and straightforward, its more emotive moments tersely distilled to their cores. Maryse Alberti’s cinematography provides a bleached palette to match Randy’s weariness and the film’s forlorn Jersey Shore setting. And gone are the flashy editing techniques—split screens! Time jumping! Hyperkinetic montages!—that defined Aronofsky’s earlier efforts.

The Fountain, despite its intellectual and visual ambitions, flummoxed many critics and alienated all but Aronofsky’s most avid fans with its muddled time travel story arc. Ann Hornaday called it an “earnest, magnificent wreck” in The Washington Post. Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times was less kind, saying that enduring it was “a pretty decent case for euthanasia; here is what it’s like to long for a swift, merciful end.” With The Wrestler, Aronofsky and Rourke (no stranger to career frustration himself and, by the weathered looks of him, a man who could identify with the Ram’s pathological self-abuse) find success by scaling back their ambitions. Rourke withdraws further and further into himself over the course of the film. At its conclusion he is an empty shell, spurned by the two women who were his last hopes. “That’s the only place they love me. Out there,” he says of the ring—displayed here as more of a fraternity than a deathtrap—before his ill-advised final brawl. And so he flings himself back into the embrace of the community that had lost faith in him. Aronofsky and Rourke have done the same and famously forgiving Hollywood is sure to provide a warm welcome back.

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