Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 115 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Judah Friedlander, Bruce Springsteen, Mark Margolis, Dylan Summers, Ernest Miller.
Tag-lines: "Love. Pain. Glory."
Best exchange: "Goddamn they don't make em' like they used to." –"Fuckin' 80's man, best shit ever!" "Bet'chr ass man, Guns N' Roses! Rules." –"Crue!" "Yeah!" –"Def Lep!" "Then that Cobain pussy had to come around & ruin it all." –"Like there's something wrong, why not just have a good time?" "I'll tell you somethin', I hate the fuckin' 90's."
Solid, solid, solid movie, and the best wrestling flick since Jules Dassin's NIGHT AND THE CITY. It's like HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN directed by the Dardenne Brothers and starring Mickey Rourke as Dog the Bounty Hunter. Well, not exactly, but you see my point. It's a character study of washed-up Randy 'the Ram' Robinson, and a rumination on outsider performance art (from smashing folding chairs on dudes' heads at elementary schools to stripping in a sleazy Jersey bar). In its simple presentation and love for marginalized characters, it would make for a great recession double feature with FROZEN RIVER. And both films manage to find hilarity (as well as soul-crushing misery) amid the carnage. Take, for example, Randy's pre-wrestling routine: a sleazier version of say, Fosse's in ALL THAT JAZZ. With Randy, it's the tanning salon, steroid injections, hair bleaching, and prepping neon-green spandex. Rourke deserves his myriad accolades, as does Marisa Tomei, who pulls off 'aging Jersey stripper' (though perhaps it's the glittery eyeshadow that pushes her over the edge). The masochistic "Necro Butcher" plays himself in a memorable sequence, too. The only sour note is Evan Rachel Wood, who continues to be incredibly bland, but THE WRESTLER emerges unscathed by her interference.
The wrestling scenes themselves are the centerpiece of the film, and while they advance plot and character, they are also ridiculously visceral, maybe the most intense scenes of their kind I've seen since the no-holds-barred naked shower room brawl in EASTERN PROMISES.
(Side note: Why does everyone keep saying this is Rourke's comeback? They said it about THE RAINMAKER in '97, they said it about ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO in '03, and they said it about SIN CITY in '05, which was #1 at the box office its opening weekend. Now they're saying it about THE WRESTLER in '08, which is classic media manipulation designed to create an underdog narrative and win Oscars. Fortunately, the film deserves them on its own merits.)
Addendum, September 2009: I just saw John Huston's FAT CITY, and I gotta say that THE WRESTLER is practically a straight-up remake (and that FAT CITY is the better film of the two). Now, I'm not gonna say that seeing FAT CITY diminishes the impact of THE WRESTLER... but, ya know what, it kinda does. See FAT CITY immediately.