Friday, February 6, 2009

The Story Of A One Trick Pony

By Alec Horowitz

Three and a half stars

Mickey Rourke turns in a pained performance as a man whose time has gone before him. One can imagine him being robbed of his once fame by a man with a name like Vince McMan. Taking his money away and building a multinational corporation on the backs of dysfunctional men who both view the show on a backwater cable channel and their dysfunctional boys who buy the action figures. ‘The Wrestler’ has a script by comedy writer Robert Siegel, who has seemed to decide to put away his copies of the Onion for something a bit more interesting. Though the script sometimes has some problems with flow, the characters it portrays are at least honest.

‘The Wrestler’ is really Micky Rourke’s movie. His performance is iconic, and is going to be iconic for years to come. While Marisa Tomei turns in a strong performance, the movie is really Rourke’s. We get a lot of shots of just Rourke’s back to the camera walking through the local supermarket he works at or at coming towards the wrestling ring. The film is at times a indictment of America’s anything goes culture, as expressed in one potent scene where Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson is sitting behind a table, signing autographs at a small gathering of wrestling fans, and The Ram looks down and sees the paralyzed legs of the men singing pictures of themselves from their glory days. Sometimes entertainment does all boil down to just some people who have been messed up by an industry, signing fancy lettering onto their headshots.

Some of the script doesn’t work. Some of it at times can feel forced, and at other times, the script can be weak in spots. This is one of those films where the single character trumps everything else around him. ‘The Wrestler’ is a character study. Marisa Tomei isn’t to be underrated either, and she isn’t as she turns in a performance as a washed up stripper (expect for her great body, which seems a little too good to be a washed up stripper in New Jersey), she turns in a good performance as a stripper who seems to connect with The Ram’s emotional damage. The sub plot includes the fractured relationship with his daughter (Rachael Evan Wood), as he obsesses over the missed chance he had with her. One of the most potent scenes in the film, and the most defining line of the whole script is “I just don’t want you to hate me”, which in a way explains the bigger psychological draw of wrestling. It’s easier for us to watch people wrestle on an actual stage in a violent matter. ‘The Wrestler’, for all its unfocused problems, remains us that the pain off the court is more often more painful than the pain we inflict on it.

Nicholas Cage was originally cast as The Ram, and thank God he dropped out. This movie could have been just a clich├ęd mess that lacked the independent feel it needed to work. Mickey Rourke’s pain is the star of this film, and this is a career defining performance. While the film doesn’t seem to know how to end itself, it is almost redeemed by a cut to a black screen and the first few notes of the wonderful tune by Bruce Springsteen. Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei both got Oscar nods, but the academy should of not passed up a chance to nominate a song that really does define this film for ‘Best Original Song’. At the end of this film, you could like or dislike the film, but you might like Mickey Rourke’s performance better than even the film. His performance is bigger than this film. His performance is largely than this film. Rourke is a broken down man who has been on the rocks for a few years and watching this film, you aren’t watching a character. You are watching him.

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