There isn’t one false moment in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. This is a nearly perfect film so far as I can tell, with no wasted opportunities, made with zero sense of pretension. The Wrestler is Aronofsky’s simplest, most straightforward film, but it’s no less accomplished than his other, more narratively ambitious efforts, which include Black Swan, Pi, Noah, Requiem for a Dream, mother!, and The Fountain. Working with French cinematographer Maryse Alberti and emulating the films of the Dardenne brothers by shooting with naturalistic light and hand-held cameras, Aronofsky created a dirty, gritty, lived-in atmosphere where his potentially self-destructing characters are set free.
Utilizing a tender yet emotionally and physically violent original screenplay by Robert Siegel, Aronofsky also benefited from having one of the best performances that one could imagine anchoring his picture, as Mickey Rourke was nothing less than transfixing and completely believable as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up professional wrestling superstar from the 1980’s who barely manages a meager existence by wrestling in run-down gyms and local auditoriums. He’s got a messed up relationship with this estranged daughter (well played by Evan Rachel Wood) that never seems to take a turn in the right direction.
And this is to say nothing of his mega-crush on Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, excellent as usual and frequently nude if you’re into that sort of thing), a single-mom stripper who exploits her body on stage much in the same fashion as Randy does in the ring. Siegel’s screenplay dives into the obvious parallels between the stripping and wrestling worlds, making the case that both Randy and Cassidy are essentially the same people going through the same issues. Rourke created one of the most richly drawn screen characters of the last 20 years; his work sits right next to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood and Benicio Del Toro in Things We Lost in the Fire, performances that I consider to be some of the best in recent memory.
The wrestling action is appropriately bloody and visceral as it would have been dishonest for it to be portrayed any way else. The filmmakers want you to feel exactly what it’s like to be in the ring and they really bring it. Professional wrestling is one of America’s favorite sources of entertainment, and there is something distinctly American about The Wrestler, even while its themes of redemption are universal. And just wait for the incredible ending with a total stinger of a final image — it’s absolutely true to everything that has come before it.
Review by Nick Clement