Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller, Dylan Keith Summers, Tommy Farra, Mike Miller, Marcia Jean Kurtz, John D'Leo, Ajay Naidu, Gregg Bello
Written by: Robert D. Siegel
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use
Running Time: 109
Date: 05/09/2008

The Wrestler (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ring Masters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Wrestler on DVD

The mind-bendingly visual director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) takes a new direction with his fourth film, The Wrestler, venturing into documentary realism. But the world presented here is so unique and fascinating and Aronofsky's directorial skill is so present that the film comes alive. The characters seem to live and breathe between the margins of the story, and to exist for more reasons than just driving the story forward. Mickey Rourke stars in the title role, a former 1980s wrestling superstar called Randy "The Ram" Robinson, still working today in the small-time circuits for smaller paychecks and a fraction of the glory. He lives in a trailer, struggles to pay his rent and lives vicariously through his past (he tries to show off to the neighborhood kids by hauling out his old, ancient Nintendo game). When he suffers a heart attack, he makes an honest attempt to retire and to re-connect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). He also tries to build a meaningful relationship with a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), whom he's frequented for some time. She may be the only soul with whom he's ever really connected. (She clearly likes him but she has built up years' worth of emotional defenses that keeps people out.) Aronofsky and screenwriter Robert D. Siegel revel in the tiniest details of this world, from The Ram getting his hair done and buying drugs, to his pathetic job in a supermarket (and, one weekend, at the deli counter), and preparing for matches, working out routines with his "opponents." The shallow nature of the characters should by no means indicate a shallowness in the film; in fact, Aronofsky manages to elevate mere "documentary realism" to something far more profound. He looks into these pathetic lives and finds greatness. In response, Rourke and Tomei both give astonishingly rich performances that deserve any and all accolades they might receive. (They both won San Francisco Film Critics Circle awards.) [See also my interview with Darren Aronofsky and Marisa Tomei.]

DVD Details: Fox's DVD comes with a very good 42-minute making-of documentary and a Bruce Springsteen music video. There are optional language and subtitle tracks and scene selections. Either way, this is a film that viewers will want to see more than once. Also available on Blu-Ray.

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