Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Wrestler: Mickey Rourke's redemption

Crystal and I went to Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville last night to watch The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke. He has always been one of my favorite actors, ever since his small but mesmerizing role in Body Heat, the film noir that launched Kathleen Turner's career and established William Hurt as a leading man. Since that film, Rourke's life has epitomized the promising career compromised by lifestyle choices. But he has always remained eminently watchable, even in lousy movies. There's just always something . . . real about him. Convincing. You forget he's acting.

The Wrestler capitalized on that talent. With it's handheld-camera minimalist style, it draws you in to the gritty world of a has-been professional wrestler living in New Jersey, trying to eke out an existence in his hovel of a trailer by wrestling on the weekends in low-paying, non-televised events at VFWs and the like and working during the week at a supermarket. He's estranged from his daughter - played convincingly by Evan Rachel Wood - and trying to court a stripper, Marisa Tomei in a . . . er . . . revealing role.

The wrestling portrayals are spot on. I can say that because I've watched professional wrestling since I was 10 or so when my friends and I waited all week to watch Championship Wrestling with Johnny Powers on Saturday afternoons. That's the kind of wrestling portrayed in the movie - not the soap opera, special-effects, sex-crazed WWE of today. I've been to the small venue events and the movie absolutely captures the absurd rawness of it all, from hiding razor blades to open up "fake" wounds to using whatever is handy to demolish the opponent. In the film, a fan in a wheelchair hands Rourke's character an artifical leg and begs him to hit his opponent with it. He does.

Even the pseudo-relationship with Tomei and the seedy atmosphere of the strip club scenes carry an air of authenticity. You'll just have to trust me on those two scores without elaboration.

During the previews, we heard people behind us in the theatre complaining that they were only watching The Wrestler because Revolutionary Road was sold out. I heard them go from mocking the early locker-room scenes where the wrestlers were choreographing their matches (like that's a surprise?) to laughing genuinely and, I'm guessing, choking back some tears later on.

This is a tour de force for Rourke. It parallels his own life, so the realism oozes from his hard-living bloated face and his boxing-ravaged body.

If you're one of those people who harbor huge disdain for professional wrestling, I highly recommend that you don't let that keep you from seeing The Wrestler. It's not a film about professional wrestling. It's a film about life, relationships, loss, choices, and perseverance. Professional wrestling just happens to be the context. Crystal hates wrestling, and she loved the movie (disclosure: she's a Mickey Rourke fan).

Rourke's last line left me wincing. As he's about to go back into the ring for the big career-rejuvenating rematch against the stern advice of his doctor, he tells Tomei, "The only place I get hurt is out there," referring to the world outside the ring.

Soon after that, cut to black and Springsteen singing "have you ever seen a one-trick pony . . . ?"


Put another checkmark in director Darren Aronofsky's win column.

And Mickey, enjoy your upcoming Oscar. You deserve it.


Matt said...

That does it; I'm going to make sure to see the film. Thanks for featuring it, and discussing it in light of our mutual interest in the authentic, the real, and the underbelly of life. Mickey Rourke is definitely the kind of guy who could fit into a Beat milieu, don't you think?

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...


I'm pretty sure it won't disappoint.

Thanks for making the connection to the Beat milieu! I thought about making it explicit, and then decided to trust the readership to do that. Which you did!

The "underbelly of life." Damn! I wish I had used that in the review!!