The Wrestler, Darren Aranofsky’s latest film, is without a doubt the most exciting film of 2008. If a film this great were guaranteed at the end of every movie season, I would endure all of the High School Musicals and Beverly Hills Chihuahuas in the world with the knowledge that, in the end, some folks will still generate good cinema. And that’s what The Wrestler is, it’s not just good in comparison with the usually muck, it’s good in comparison with the greats. The Wrestler stands up there with Raging Bull and On The Waterfront. It’s a classic, and it’s about a pro-wrestler for chrissake!
Almost everything about this film is spot on, my only problem was with Evan Rachel Wood’s acting, whose presence is limited anyways. Mickey Rourke delivers, and though I’m not old or seasoned enough to have a full education on the man’s career, this has got to be his most outstanding performance. While Milk had me raving about Sean Penn, whom I normally detest, The Wrestler has me tying up an almost naked Sean Penn to a chair, slapping him in the face while shoving a picture of Mickey Rourke in his face and shouting “YOU WILL NEVER BE THIS GOOD!”
Marissa Tomei plays opposite Rourke and delivers a performance of equal value. The two of them are great together; their chemistry explodes with emotion and understanding. And it’s almost strange praising and actor and actress so highly for portraying a pro-wrestler and a stripper, but the two are so honest that any audience member who doesn’t abandon their prejudices at the door and who isn’t overwhelmed with emotion during this movie has got to be a skin-job. The Wrestler is a real movie. These are real actors. To watch everything come together on the screen is fucking beautiful.
Aranofsky is in fourth gear the entire time. The man has always displayed an extreme amount of talent and finally seems to find his place in the film world with this latest effort. And it’s about time. Pi was great, but Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain were so profoundly bad that I had practically denied this man credit as a director altogether. Well, if Aranofsky were here right now and could punch me in the mouth for my doubts, goddammit I’d let him. He approaches Robert D. Siegel’s script with a consummate amount of objectivity. Siegel treats his characters with love and respect, and Aranofsky acknowledges them as living, breathing people instead of the losers society has written them off as. It takes balls to write a movie like this, and Siegel’s script has us dying with laughter and holding back tears at the same time. The writing is not in the least bit cheesy, neither is it profound. Siegel’s truthful understanding of human interaction is reminiscent of scripts penned by Martin Scorsese or Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. He doesn’t just want us to experience one monotonous emotion; he wants us to get caught up in the flurry of emotions that makes up the human struggle. And he does a damned good job.
But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the true treat here is Mickey Rourke. It almost seems cheap to say this, but his bumbling giant is as sweet and lovable and heartbreaking as Louis Quinn’s Mountain Rivera in Requiem for a Heavyweight (a film with similar themes to The Wrestler, but one that casts pro-wrestling in a different light). Maybe it’s the fact that Rourke’s film career was in the same slump as Randy the Ram’s wrestling, maybe not. Whatever the case, this should be how Rourke is remembered. There is something magical about trying to hold onto a dream, especially when that dream is in the athletic world and it’s guaranteed to disappear eventually. We praise our athletes, and they certainly enjoy the wealth, but we forget that the window an athlete has to actually be somebody is extremely small. The Wrestler attempts to make us understand the magic of those dreams, because when they’ve gone and we’ve forgotten, that truly is something tragic.