Dino Hollywood reviews THE WRESTLER



“The Wrestler” Directed by Darren Aronofsky


AFI FEST Centerpiece Gala – November 6, 2008  – Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

“They don’t wanna see a guy wrestling with his soul… some fruity movie about suffering. Well, all right, a little bit, for the critics.” – Colonel Lipnik (Barton Fink)

Directed with reserved surety, edited with blunt grace and performed with simple honesty, Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” is as intimate a psychological profile as has ever been committed to celluloid. For those disinterested and perhaps dismissive of the world of professional Wrestling, let your guard down and you’re prone to discover an old fashioned weepie. For those in the know, prepare yourself for a major fuckin’ donnybrook.

Finally, the misunderstood and much maligned world of Wrestling (yes, Wrestling – not “Sports Entertainment”) is rendered in all its bruised majesty; its giants made men under harsh fluorescents in the makeshift dressing rooms of high school gymnasiums. Here, everything is sweat-soaked and stripped to its barest element. The allure is exposed as shelter, the applause for understanding, the character as armor, and the ring remains the thing. For outside the squared circle awaits an even more crushing reality from which physical pain may be the only escape. This carnival microcosm, by its very nature surreal and polarizing in its over the top vulgarity, is rendered never less than human in the hands all artists involved.

Aronofsky adopts a documentary aesthetic that disarmingly intersects the poetic. Quiet, lovely and intrepidly tender moments abound and are engendered the same respect and clarity as those brutal and humiliating. Exquisite framing allows entrée to the solemn dignity of what might be a stranger’s anonymity or a hero’s silenced pride. Both may or may not be the case and Aronofsky knows just how far to tip his hat. He doesn’t get out of the way of a great story so much as he finds the simplest way to tell it. The surface observation of stylistically subdued (for Aronofsky) is just that. “The Wrestler” is nothing short of stylistically astute, as the film’s essence is wholly that of its damaged hero.

Mickey Rourke is apparently incapable of artifice in the role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson. He occupies nearly every frame of the picture and imbues the bulk of it with a world-weariness and understated, sincere, sweetness, utilizing his entire physicality to script scenes where the two grapple. “The Wrestler” goes where Mr. Rourke goes and leaves when he leaves and to a certain extent, this is what makes for such an authentically effective experience. Many of the most deafening moments transpire sans the raucous but oddly comforting early eighties hair metal soundtrack, the echo of crunching bones or the roar of rabid die-hards. It is when The Ram’s guard is up and the only trace of respite is a restrained desolation behind the eyes that we draw the least comfort. We are forced out when he is hiding from us just as we are locked in when he is hiding from himself. In his world, the possibility of genuine affection and the capacity for compassion can not only be mistaken for adulation but traded for it as well. The scars on the surface of The Ram’s tattered frame are his perceived connection to the safest semblance of love he’s known and serve as solace from insular wounds unattended to.

“The Wrestler” is about as far from a “fruity movie” as you’re ever likely to witness but for all intents and purposes, it is about a man wrestling with his soul and it does involve plenty of suffering. It also concerns itself with what it takes to strap on the boots everyday and go to work. Perhaps, that’s why none other than consummate everyman songsmith Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen stepped into the arena to lay down the aching, haunting and ultimately dignifying theme song. Because when it’s all left on the mat and the house lights come up, we are “The Wrestler”. The cheers fade but we still feel the pain. -d