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on 2 February 2009
In Darren Aronofsky's gritty and brilliant new film Mickey Rourke bares both body and soul in a triumphant comeback. It makes for uncomfortable viewing, not only because of the sometimes gruesome nature of the action, but because anyone who knows anything of the personal life and history of Rourke will find the line between fiction and reality very difficult to discern, if it exists at all. Aranofsky apparently refused to make the film with anyone but Rourke in the title role (but not before berating him and raking over the coals of his wasted career) and it is difficult to imagine the film being as powerful with anyone else at its centre. From the opening scenes we are looking at a man who later describes himself as 'a broken-down piece of meat'. His face is a mess, his hair dyed and brittle, a cheap hearing aid is obviously visible and every inch of his skin is marked by scars or tattoos, the marks of his history. It is distressing to see this man, for whom physicality is everything, so destroyed by his vocation. Just when he reaches for his glasses in order to read you feel the fall from grace. Add to this the mess of his life; locked out of his trailer home for non-payment of rent, only able to buy intimacy as a customer in a lap dancing club, estranged from his daughter about whom he knows nothing, and you could dismiss this film as two hours of misery. But that would be a mistake.

I complained recently about the black and white morality of Slumdog Millionaire (not to be confused with the primary coloured palette of the film itself - but I know you can keep up with my confused metaphors), well, The Wrestler is rendered in shades of grey, and it makes it a far more interesting film. To present such a flawed hero and set him on a course which could end in either the smallest salvation or his demise is brave. To make your audience care for him nonetheless is a remarkable achievement and a testament to the strength of Rourke's brutally honest performance.

The seemingly mundane task of working at the deli counter is brilliantly used to illustrate both his need to perform but also his shame and embarrassment at finding himself there. The enforced reunion with his daughter doesn't offer any schmaltzy forgetting of his abandoning her, rather he is forced by her to confront how little he knows his own daughter. The other fascinating relationship is with lap-dancer Cassidy (an equally brave performance from Marisa Tomei). She, like Randy, has used her body to make a living and is forced by the cruel taunts from a group of young men in the private VIP room to admit that she is past her prime. She has her own issues of pride which prevent her from forming a closer bond with Randy. These two characters illustrate in very different ways that moment when a person is forced to decide what defines them, or how they want to define themselves.

This isn't a film for the squeamish. Randy's tour of the extreme wrestling circuit provides some scenes of gut-churning violence, but what's actually distressing is just seeing him out of breath, struggling on the brink of what's safe for his exhausted body. It is also the simple scenes that hit home; in one where Randy plays an ancient computer game (in which he is a character) with a local boy, he looks crestfallen when the boy, clearly bored and used to far more impressive fare, leaves him in his trailer. The possibly redemptive ending is skillfully ambiguous and the credits roll with another excellent film song from Bruce Springsteen (how does he do that?).

To lay your life out for all to see is what actors are usually avoiding by pretending to be somebody else. In another strong year if Rourke doesn't win an Oscar, it won't have been for a lack of effort. So whilst some of the other contenders can be seen acting their socks off, you won't see anything like that in this film. He just is The Wrestler.
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VINE VOICEon 24 August 2009
"The Wrestler" is an impressive film about a down at heel former celebrity wrestler who ekes out a living fighting in brutal ,bloody contests that often end with him needing stitches.Mickey Rourke puts in a tremendous performance as the Wrestler; his familiar skinny frame has been bloated and pumped up to Incredible Hulk like proportions and he looks every inch an all in wrestler. He plays the character with poignancy and feeling capturing his loneliness,confusion and disappointment. The Wrestler spends most of the film chasing after an unavailable lap dancer ,trying to build bridges with his estranged daughter and coping with life in a hair net behind a deli counter at the local supermarket. After he succumbs to a heart attack he has to decide whether to end his wrestling career and settle down to a lonely unfulfilled old age or to go out in a blaze of glory. "The Wrestler" is a convincing , well acted character portrait of a tragic figure.
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What do you do when what you are is something that hurts you? What do you do when you can't be who you thought you were? When the mythology you gave yourself - father, husband, lover, friend, drunk, alcoholic, wrestler, hero or whatever - is not who you are anymore?

You wake up one morning and you couldn't do what you thought you could do, couldn't do what you used to be able to. The one thing you used to exploit and use to keep the wolf from the door (just) has gone, or is going, and you can feel time running out.

This is the world that anyone whose ever gotten old, or is getting old, or is not as young as they used to be recognises. The world of Mickey Rourke as The Wrestler. Rourke delivers an oscar-worthy performance, where he ceases to be an actor but simply becomes his character. Filmed in a cinema-verite style with mostly handheld framing, the viewer feels as if they are, in some way, intruding on Randy "The Ram"s life as he watches it slowly fall apart. For a man form whom sport has been his life, his raison d'etre, to suddenly have that taken away as he clings ever more desperately to the coat-tails of a fame that is now nostalgia, sees Rourke deconstruct. He seeks to rebuild his life, and faces the question that all of us face at some point : what are we? who are we? and how do we live in the world where we thought we knew our place and that world moves around us and we find ourselves left behind?

The Wrestler is director Darren Aronofsky's masterpiece. Like Kubrick he tries a different genre everytime, and also at the core of it, remakes the same film everytime, about human beings and what drives us all. The fim is gritty, and real, and doesn't feel like a film more as a gritty, no holds barred documentary. It's not for the squeamish, nor for the weak, with a story arc that promises a resolution and provides a question, which is in itself, the thing that gnaws at all of us in the long dark teatime of the soul. What makes a man a man?
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 August 2013
Mickey Rourke may be an unusual choice for a leading man these days, but, upon watching The Wrestler, it was hard to imagine the film with anyone else.

He plays a `burned out' wrestler whose glory days have long since passed him by. He lives in a trailer, works part-time at a local supermarket and barely sees his daughter. We watch as he tries desperately to form relationships and regain his career. Like people said that The Man Who Fell to Earth was basically about David Bowie playing a - slightly warped - version of himself, The Wrestler is effectively Mickey Rourke. He's seen his best - acting - days and is trying to climb back up the ladder - the hard way.

If you're not a fan of `professional' wrestling, don't worry. The actual `ring time' makes up about 12 minutes of a 1 hour 40 minutes film. And, what grappling there is, only proves the point that it's all fake and one big show for the people.

There's little to laugh at here. It's a sad tale of someone who has had a taste of the big life and lost it. Now he'll do anything to get it back. It's definitely not a feel-good movie. If you want something tragically poignant, where you root and feel sorry for the `hero' all at the same time, try this. Mickey Rourke is more than just muscles.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 January 2009
Impressed by Mickey Rourke's Golden Globe winning speech, I decided to go see this movie.

Randy 'The Ram' Robinson fought the Ayatollah in Madison Square Garden back in the 80s, and still battles today. Ill met by fate, bruised and battered, his sinewy muscles scarred, his bones creaking in protest he still has the fight, and like a One Trick Pony he sticks to what he knows. It's a desperate life.

As you may recall in Raging Bull, Robert De Niro put on about 40 pounds to play fighter Jake La Motta as he got older, and he won an Oscar for his dedication to the role.

Mickey Rourke does something no less astounding here, putting on huge bulk to assume the persona and convincing physique of a professional wrestler. It's the most amazing acting performance of the year. The lines between actor and character blur and disappear. The kind of pain you see on Randy's face cannot be pretended. It can only be relived from the actor's parallel experience, which is what makes Rourke's performance so compelling.

For female companionship, he goes to a local bar, where a fetching stripper played by Marisa Tomei, Academy Award winner for My Cousin Vinny, gives him a lap dance for a fee. He can barely make rent, yet he has priorities.

Marisa gives an incredibly authentic performance, and it's a welcome surprise see her take it off in the name of art. I applaud her courage in doing so. Her physique is simply amazing, and her body art is very intriguing.

Evan Rachel Wood plays his estranged daughter. Previously, she played the female lead part in Across The Universe, and already has a quite impressive filmography under her belt. Here she sports a different look, and gives a perfect performance.

Some of the wrestling sequences are truly outrageous, and not a little disturbing. Having cut my finger on a ham slicer early in life, seeing people operating ham slicers gives me the heebie jeebies. If you have a problem with the sight of blood, I caution you that there are some disturbing sequences in the movie.

The Academy's actor awards tend to go to actors in two types of role:

1.Psychopath- No Country for Old Men, The Usual Suspects, There Will Be Blood, Training Day, Silence of the Lambs.

2.Mentally Disabled, Social or Physical Handicap, overcomes great adversity or discrimination- Shine, As Good as It Gets, A Beautiful Mind, Ray, Scent of a Woman, Capote, Philadelphia, The Pianist, A Beautiful Life.

Randy definitely has a handicap, and last year was the year of the psychopath, with both Daniel Day Lewis, and Javier Bardem winning Oscar.

I hope you find this review helpful.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 April 2011
Rourke is indeed very good as a aging wrestler disintegrating before
our eyes. And there are some beautifully shot sequences.

But there's also a lot of hokum, especially in the failed relationship
with his daughter, and the stripper played by Marisa Tomei, who is
trapped in a similar downward spiral to Rourke, and may be his only
hope, simply doesn't have the depth to balance him.

For me, a good, solid movie, but not the masterpiece a lot of critics
claimed, at least on first viewing.

I'm a fan of Aronofsky's, but I found this the least brave and
compelling of his films.
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on 30 January 2015
We have all seen this premise before. The average loser trying for his shot at the big time, right? (Rocky, The Fighter, Warrior, Cinderella Man) ring any bells?? Well this film, follows a similar pattern whist turning the script completely on it's head. This the loser that has already hit the big time, lived the life of the star and is now picking up the pieces of his life, years later, whilst still dreaming of hitting it big just one more time.

Firstly, lets get Mickey Rourke out of the way. I mean WOW! What an inspired piece of perfection he delivers here. For many years Rourke has been an underrated actor, possessing quite brilliant talent, whilst never delivering that one in a lifetime critically acclaimed roles that would be remembered for a lifetime. Having plucked himself out of obscurity, he certainly delivers here. It is almost tragic as the role is very much a reflection of Rourke's life at the time from being a Hollywood A-list actor, to a rock bottom nobody. If Sin City were the whispers of a return to the big time, then The Wrestler announced that the man was back with a bang. I don't even want to say that Rourke acts out of his skin, because to say that he is acting is an insult; Rourke is Randy 'The Ram' Robinson.
So the story picks up many years after Randy has been a superstar, and is now forced to make a living between working a grocery store deli counter and amateur wrestling shows in school halls and small time local venues. He is older and ultimately unhappy with his life. He is estranged from his daughter (played beautifully by Evan Rachel Wood) and the only real friend that he holds dear is an ageing stripper, who herself experiences moments of clarity throughout the film, surrounding the cruel nature of people and the business she works in. Randy seems content enough to carry on existing between the deli counter, the amateur wrestling and the strip club, until he suffers from a heart attack, which at that point causes him to re-evaluate his life and the effects it has had on others round him.
The ending is quite fitting, although slightly sad, however it was never going to be happily ever after in this story, which makes it all the more a loveable story, as it isn't trying to please the masses like most of these types do. The film feels personal and certainly isn't big budget. It is just a fantastic story about a fantastic, charismatic individual who has made mistakes along the way. I seriously cannot rate this film high enough!! One of my Top 3 films of all time.
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on 5 February 2013
The wrestler

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) is a renowned wrestler, a show stealer. But one night he is forced to retire and starts to look at his life in a different light.

Being a huge fan of the American wrestling entertainment such as WWE and TNA I looked forward to seeing how wrestling was portrayed in this film. But I was given so much more. This is a strong passionate drama that will make you laugh, cry and stand up and cheer. And there are two reasons why: Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky.

Much was made of this film being Mickey Rourke's big come back after all he has been through over the years. This is a film that really shows his masculinity, his strength but combined with an underlining sentimentality and a deep internal struggle brings about an Oscar nominated performance.

The Ram is a hero. The wonderful opening credits show a montage of the wrestler at the top of his game, showcasing his talents and being the man in that era. As the film progresses we can see how the character changes through highs at independent events to the lows with his family life. Ram is an inspiration through strong will and a determination to make everything right for his family and for himself. The way he portrays himself to his neighbours, and the choices in language all collate into a fantastic person, that is always a joy to watch.

Aronofsky's writing chooses to follow Rourke's character from start to finish and his choices of including other interests such as strippers, family, wrestling, drug smuggling and food service jobs all mix to make a believable, almost relaxing story. Everything flows smoothly with the excitement of the wrestling matches to the heavy dramatic scenes between father and daughter to the tense love scenarios.

The film has a real independent feel. There is no glitz and glamour, everything is portrayed as run down and difficult living environments. Ram's home is shabby, his workplace is stressful but his real life lies in the ring. Aronofsky's close ups are great but his scenery shots are even better.

The wrestling matches are the highlights of this 2008 picture. Being a fan of wrestling I enjoyed seeing how the independent scene was worked, how each wrestler interacted with each other behind the curtains and seeing how brutal some of the `weapons' used were. The brutality and execution from all the actors and the crowd worked wonders.

Given Ram's life and everything he has been put through it is inspiring to see a person give everything into something they enjoy doing and through Rourke's strong dynamic performance and the directional master class of Aronofsky, this is a great drama that is definitely worth checking out.

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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 November 2012
Darren Aronofsky's acclaimed drama of a loner sportsman attempting to prevail against the odds is hardly an original idea, thematically being a reworking of boxing's Rocky, pool's The Hustler, cycling's Breaking Away, the list goes on. However, what The Wrestler does have going for it is that it features a (relatively) unusual sport, it is shot in a brilliantly raw and visceral manner, and it features a set of outstanding acting performances.

Of course, at the centre of the film is a bravura performance from ex-boxer Mickey Rourke, who was continuing his comeback into big-time films roles following his return as lead in 2005's Sin City. Rourke's performance as veteran wrestler Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is excellent (the best I've seen from him since 1982's Diner), and certainly warranted his Best Actor Oscar nomination. Following extensive training and body shaping for the role, Rourke delivers a superbly nuanced turn in which the tough-guy camaraderie of the wrestling world (which represents, in effect, Randy's spiritual family) is contrasted with the vulnerability displayed as Randy has difficulty in maintaining any personal relationships outside the ring. Aronofsky (and screenwriter Robert D Siegel) also skilfully (and bleakly) shatter any audience illusions around the glamour of Randy's trade, as attested by his difficulty in meeting the payments due on his trailer park home and in his need to hold down a second menial job. There are also a number of brilliant depictions of Randy's growing ambivalence towards his sport, particularly after his deteriorating health (apparently) puts paid to his career - the scene where Randy sits casting a reflective eye over his fellow (war-wounded) fighters during an autograph-signing session is superbly done.

In addition to Rourke, Marisa Tomei (also nominated by the Academy in the Best Supporting Actress category) is excellent as Randy's pole-dancing friend Cassidy (more a female sparring partner than a girlfriend), as is Evan Rachel Wood as Randy's estranged daughter Stephanie, with whom the battered and scarred father attempts to re-establish his long-dead relationship. A further mention should also be made of Aronofsky's fight sequences, which are spectacular and take the phrase 'fight gore' to the next level up (or maybe, down) from Scorsese's Raging Bull.

For me, the final third of the film does tend to stray into more typical Hollywood sentimentality, despite Rourke's stoic resistance, but the (perhaps predictable) denouement fight showdown is no less impressive for all that. Overall therefore, whilst, for me, The Wrestler rather pales in comparison to the aforementioned Raging Bull and rather lacks the narrative complexity of even something like 2010's The Fighter, it is still certainly worth a viewing (Oh, and the Bruce Springsteen song over the closing credits also brings a welcome relief from all the Guns N' Roses (et al) stuff that has gone before).
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on 12 June 2012

The Wrestler (2008)

Mickey Rourke? Who's that? Within five minutes of watching The Wrestler you are no longer looking at Mickey Rourke. He is Randy "The Ram Robinson.

Spellbinding, mesmerizing, captivating, awesome. All these half corny words are ground out for a performance like this but what it really is, is beautiful. Rourke has always had presence and he showed he still has it during his comeback as Marv in Sin City. As Randy the Ram however it is something else.
I'm going to be bold and say not since Viggo Mortensen became Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings Triology, not since Robert De Niro became Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, and recently as Meryl Streep became Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady. This is where Rourke's performance stands, in the beyond great category (yes there are more but I am trying to be concise).

Randy the Ram is a past his prime wrestler, forced to do local gigs with minimal crowds. His boss (Todd Barry) belittles him for spraying himself with fake tan and rubbing his lycra clad body against other men on weekends. He fruitlessly pursues a single mother, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) who works as a stripper where he drinks every night. It seems like his life is down and out but Randy opens up just a little for Cassidey to persuade him to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood).

It's through this almost reluctant attempt and reconnection that we see the real Randy. The man that put aside everything to become a wrestler because he felt that was the only place he was ever loved.

The supporting cast is brilliant. Marisa Tomi (Before the Devil Knows you're Dead, Anger Management) graces us with a sublime performance and easily the best of her career.

Director Darren Aronofsky's (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and recently Black Swan) direction is subtly brutal. He tiptoes around Randy's personal life as if we were on his shoulder and not supposed to be there. Yet it does not feel invasive despite the film's strong realism.
Randy does only ever have one place he loves. The same place he is worshiped. The ring. Everything else he does seems to go wrong, and some of the mistakes he makes we can see him as he's making them. The film is deeply tragic in that sense. But we root for Randy, and we side with him taking hold of the `me against the world' mentality. At least I did.

What's fascinating is the world of wrestling and Rourke, aged 56 at the time of filming, is in phenomenal shape. He did a lot of the of the stunts and both of his trainers Jon Trosky and Tom Farra have parts in the film. All of the locker room scenes were improvised and this genuineness is great. The film takes us through the whole aspect of being a wrestler. The fake tanning, the shaving of body hair, the hair dye and the steroids and weight room. Like it or hate it you can still respect these guys as showmen and professional athletes and stuntmen.
A lot of professionals praised the film. Vince McMahon called it "deeply touching". Bret "The Hitman" Hart, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Mick Foley all came out in praise for the film.
This film is a real film. There are no special effects, there are no gun battles or car chases, there are no cheeky blonde girls in bikini's (yes there is a strip club but it's not glamorous). There is just the camera, great locations, great directing, great script and beautiful acting.
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