I’ll tell you why Mickey Rourke did not win the Best Actor Oscar in 2009 for his performance as the washed-up wrestling superstar, in the film of the same title, ‘The Wrestler’. The man was not acting. What you are actually seeing is pure Rourke. Well not really, but that’s the only reason I can come up with as to why this film only garnished nods from the Academy. In any event, this fan was honestly shocked by the storyline, direction and depth of performances. A brilliantly executed biopic of sorts that is nothing short of a miracle for the fading Rourke.
Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) has long retired the glory of his yester-years, of primetime TV Wrestling fame, to the distant memories of time gone by. Currently on the backend of that former glory and competing in the flashy independent wrestling circuit, he is struggling in every sense of the word. The wrong place, at the wrong time, at the wrong age. The brutal wrestling tour and years of abusing steroids and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) have taken its toll on the aging athlete. The mind is willing, but the body is not. Now forced to take on the embarrassment of lower-end employment and headline almost sideshow-type events, which basically measure up to backyard wrestling antics when compared to those of the big show. The Ram is finding just how hard it is for the common man to sustain any kind of decent lifestyle. Living in a trailer park and cruising the strip in his beat up van, a Dodge Ram, one thing’s for sure. He has not lost that inviting personality and undeniable charm. The kind of character that only comes around once in a while, one that draws people to you and makes you a star.
Loneliness. It can find us all and always seems to come calling at the worst possible times. The Ram has pushed everything that ever loved him out of his life, with the single exception being that of wrestling. And the brunt of his former decadent lifestyle falls seemingly on the most important person in his life, his daughter Stephanie (Wood). All the while, he is falling for an attractive stripper named Cassidy or Pam (Tomei) depending on how willing she really is to know you. If The Ram could find a way to break down her protective barrier, what he’d find is that all women are the same, no matter who you are or where you come from. Let me tell you, I know everything there is to know about women, and Cassidy/Pam is an open book. Sure, she’s been slanging dances for Andrew Jackson’s, but that doesn’t make her any less of a person does it? In reality, she is someone looking for the same thing as him. We are all looking for the same thing, all that once was great and that it could be again. But I know absolutely nothing about women.
And there it is, everything The Ram has to offer. A mobile home, a beat up van, a daughter that hates his guts and a woman he has to pay for attention. Forget about faded glory, that’s shit. That’s all it is, shit. People really don’t care about you, they care about what they see in you. So what’s left? A sport he dedicated his entire life to and the crowd that goes wild for it. That’s when the past comes knocking down his door. The opportunity for his next lifetime. A rematch with one of the 80’s biggest stars in wrestling that happens to be his old arch-nemesis. The Ayatollah has already signed on, all The Ram has to do is face the past this one last time. Opportunities are unjust. They are far and few in between. And if you’re not careful, they will pass you right by. The damage is done. To rebuild is all The Ram has left.
I’m usually the most anti-wrestling guy out there, but that’s where this movie takes on a new form. Much like ‘Rocky’ isn’t about boxing, ‘The Wrestler’ isn’t really about wrestling. It’s an in-depth character study. While ‘Rocky’ is still the far superior picture --- Stallone’s giant shoes are hard to follow --- ‘The Wrestler’ offers the same gratification one can feel while watching ‘Rocky’. The stories are dissimilar in almost every aspect. When compared, they hardly resemble each other, but are unilaterally connected in depth, if not style. It’s a hard feeling to explain. They just remind me of each other. Director Darren Aronofsky, succeeds in delivering this generation's ‘Rocky’, which is not an easy thing to say for this reviewer.
I really can’t stress enough just how good the performances are in this film. Rourke in his career role is not only fictional, but literal --- his back against the wall. The rise and fall of Rourke is a long and interesting story, which actually started in the ring as a professional boxer. Gritty and less than revered, Rourke would retire and later return to boxing before finally settling on acting. Relying on his good looks early on with films like ‘Rumble Fish’ and ‘9 1/2 Weeks’, he found that Hollywood was fickle and by 1999 he was broke. That’s when Sylvester Stallone saw Rourke in a restaurant, unable to pay his check for the meal. Stallone not only footed the bill, but gave him a part in his picture ‘Get Carter’. With a fine performance as a crazed drug addict in ‘Spun’, Rourke would later make waves in the blockbuster ‘Sin City’. Now with another Oscar nomination, "hey-I’m-over-40-I’m-still-smoking-hot-and-I-can-act" Marissa Tomei stars as his love interest. In 'The Wrestler', Rourke blazes up the screen.
‘The Wrestler’ hits Blu-ray with a brilliant, almost art-deco, 1080p~MPEG-4 AVC transfer. The film was shot tracking a modern and realistic documentary style direction, which adds to the natural tones and settings. It’s fairly grainy throughout, but neutral and faithful to the film’s original intent. It’s a granular style of film, so what you are seeing in here should be anticipated and appreciated. The direction and pace of the film, in the genre, should set a new industry standard for those who wish to attempt to follow.
Interiors and exteriors are aligned according to the transfer, with uniform displays. The film is exceptionally sharp and clarity is well-defined through the grain. Depth is surreal and realistic. A bright disc with clear-cut colors demonstrated. Deep blacks and vibrant whites, along with a full range of blooming color. Skin tones are orangey at times, but blend nicely. All the fine details are on full display. Basically, the transfer delivers. It’s almost flawless. The strip club scenes are so realistic in terms of lighting and nuance; I swear I can smell the dank. Hot, sticky and musty. The Asbury Park scene is classy, vivid and one of the most dramatic scenes in the picture. A beautiful depicted location, though the funhouses and boardwalk hasn’t existed since I was about four. So unless his daughter is in her late 20’s, she’d hardly even remember it. Anyway, the dance scene is located in a known condemned, asbestos trap. Reminiscent or not, unless you’re looking to score some crack, I wouldn’t venture into that neighborhood.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is fairly impressive, although bass is over-present and seems to saturate some scenes. Dialogue is sometimes muffled and requires an adjustment of volume. Rear surrounds seem to fade, but are engaged with timing. Although somewhat distracting at times, the disc is chiefly loud on all accounts, but it blends nicely into the over-all feel of the film and transfer.
With only two solid extras, the pickings are fairly slim, but not short in content. Two of the best extras I’ve seen in quite some time and can highly recommend viewing all. Jersey’s own, The Boss, rounds out the extra features with a music video of the same name.
Within the Ring: (43 min SD) A featurette with director Darren Aronofsky, Mickey Rourke and crew. A brief history of the development and making of ‘The Wrestler’. With some background and behind the scenes shots, along with a tour of the underground wresting circuit. It’s a very well put-together, excellent informative piece.
Wrestler Round Table: (25 min SD) This one is for old-school wrestling fans. A meeting with Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake, Lex Luger, ‘Diamond’ Dallas Page, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine and moderated by Damon Andrews. A virtual cornucopia of wrestling legends, with their takes on the film. Real men not only kick ass in the ring, they talk about their feelings afterwards.
The Wrestler: Music video by Bruce Springsteen. Who can say anything wrong against the Boss? I certainly won’t, not only for the fear that he will track me down, but also because it’s a pretty good song.
Almost forgotten by Hollywood wilds, written off by the public, excused to the back of the line. With a heartfelt original screenplay and wonderful direction by Darren Aronofsky, Mickey Rourke scores big with his sincere performance as the reeling ex-wrestler fighting his way back from obscurity. The Blu-ray disc is exceptional in terms of theatrical intent and display. ‘The Wrestler’ is not only one of the top pictures of 2008, but could very well prove to be one of the best of the decade. So please pick this film up and welcome Rourke back to the land of the living. Even if only for the moment, it was well worth the wait.