Directed by Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler is an eye-opening look at the dark underbelly of professional wrestling. On the big screen, pro wrestling has traditionally been approached from a comical perspective. After all, it's fake, right? But writer Robert D. Siegel's dark script goes far deeper, an examination of the tolls such a lifestyle can take on a former hero once the big shows have stopped calling.
Mickey Rourke stars as a fading wrestler known as Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Decades past the prime of his mid-range celebrity status, The Ram is still doing what he knows best, albeit on a much smaller scale. He has gone from arenas, TV appearances, and product placement on cereal boxes and in video games to wrestling in small arenas for envelopes filled with small stacks of crumpled cash. To make ends meet and keep up his perenially late rent, Ram works as a stock boy at a local grocery store. He drops what little cash he has getting lap dances from his sole friend, a stripper known as Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) at a local dive. What money remains goes towards work-related expenses such as tanning salons, hair bleaching, and performance-enhancing drugs.
By now, you've probably heard plenty about Rourke's revealing, emotional performance as The Ram. The praise is no exagerration. For a guy who has probably been the star of more bad press than he'd like to remember, the Rourke we've come to know is quickly forgotten moments into the opening scenes of The Wrestler. He digs deep, disappearing within this characterization and turning in the finest performance of his career. As many know, Rourke himself has led a roller-coaster existence and he channels these experiences into Robin Ramzinski (the character's real name).
Marisa Tomei continues her recent transition from forgotten Oscar one-timer to the sexy cougar seen in TV's Rescue Me and Sidney Lumet's dark thriller Before the Devil Knows Your Dead. Cassidy's story closely parallels Randy's. She is a performer who uses her body to make a living. She's starting to come to terms with the fact that it finally might be time to move on, but she doesn't know anything besides the world she's lived in for so many years. She gives a solid performance and has a sort of warped chemistry with Rourke.
Evan Rachel Wood plays Randy's estranged daughter Stephanie. Although the young actress is only in a few scenes, she gives a stirring emotional performance that is crucial to Randy's tale. Only 21 years old, Wood continues to grow as a very promising young actress.
Like other Aronofsky pictures, in particular Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler is a dark, gritty film with very few lighthearted moments. It's brutal in its honesty and bloodshed (literally). The Ram's story is intended as a representation of many real-life wrestlers and the lives they have lead after the fame fades away. Aronofsky himself met with numerous pro wrestlers, both former and present, to make sure they got Randy's journey right, and this level of detail comes across throughout the film. The journey is not always an easy one, but it is rewarding and informative, peppered with some of the finest acting performances of the year. Aronofsky continues to grow into one of the most intriguing filmmakers in the business. One thing is for sure: After viewing The Wrestler, you'll never look at the world of professional wrestling the same way again.