A Staple Gun, a Stripper, and a Tanning Bed: “The Wrestler” Review

I was a big wrestling fan as a kid, watching WWF on Saturday mornings.  I owned a Brett the Hitman Hart pair of glasses, an Ultimate Warrior pillow doll, action figures, and of course a world champion belt.  I lost interest right around the mid 90s, when more upstart leagues promised hardcore matches and ridiculous weapons and punishment.  Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson finds himself in this particular climate: jumping on tables covered in barbed wire, breaking a full window pane over a guy, pulling staples out of his back.  But hey–it’s his job, right?

In 2005’s Sin City, Mickey Rourke played Marv, a decrept bruiser on a mission to avenge the murder of the prostitue Goldie, a woman who looked past his scars and hambone jaw and treated him “good.”  The most memorable character in Sin City, Marv was a cold blooded bastard who could snap a neck like it was a Slim Jim, cut off hands and legs, and stomp out cops and hoods without blinking an eye.  But he was a tragic figure–he did all of that because he could, because his mitts were heavy and his gift happened to be crackin’ skulls.  Deep down, he was still a guy who wanted the company of a woman, whether it be a prostitute of his lesbain landlord (played by the smoking hot Carla Guigino).

The Wrestler finds Rourke playing another version of Marv–a headbussa who at one time had it all, similar to the career path of Rourke himself (he quit acting in the 90s to become a boxer).  As wrestler Randy “The Ram,” Rourke and director Darren Arnofsky show what happens when you stick to your calling and all the spoils begin to fade.  The Ram had his own Nintendo game complete with his signature finishing move, “The Ram Jam.”  T-shirts, action figures, VHS collections.  Wrestling has never been short on merchandise.  But wrestlers, like boxers, are usually short on options when too many pile drivers make their brains scream and their hearts shake.

The Ram we see is a guy trying to hang on because…what else can he do?  One of the best sequences in the film is seeing Ram working the deli counter at a local Acme on the weekends to make some cash.  On the surface, it’s sad, like finding out your favorite band broke-up and the lead singer is doing telemarketing now.  But the Ram takes orders like a warm-up comedian, hitting on old ladies like Dean Martin, and throws long passes of boiled ham into shopping baskets.  It’s a glimpse into what turns him on, what makes him feel alive, except slicing cold cuts probably can’t kill you in your fifties.

Outside of the ring, Ram is just an old dude with a slight hearing problem, bad eyesight, and a ragtag winter jacket held together with duct tape.  He befriends Marisa Tomei, possibly the most gorgeous naked woman on the planet over 40 years old.  She’s a stripper who is getting up there in age, trying to hold on in hopes of sending her son to a private school and building a new house.  She’s ready to cash out but has responsibilities in the meantime.  And holy hot tamales can she work a pole!

Aronofsky tells the story as straight forward and gritty as possible.  Unlike his other films, there’s no grating or unsettling effects or soundscapes.  The characters and their homes are sad enough.  The look of the beat down wrestlers in their 50s and 60s The Ram find himself at a makeshift convention with are flat out pitiful without saying a word. 

Rourke is rightfully gaining serious fanfare for his performance.  I won’t say The Wrestler is a lock for a Best Picture Nomination but it’s a moving film that examines the next step brutalized athletes face but don’t necessarily pick: a new life after the game beats you to the brink of death.  Like most of Aronofsky’s films, you won’t walk out of the theater eager to to bump “Don’t Stop Believing” for the ride home.  You will however see one of Hollywood’s sharpest guys adding a new weapon to his arsenal (fluid storytelling) and one of the business’ best actors (Rourke) finally getting the shine he ran away from. 

3 Stallone Claps out of 4

1 Stallone Clap = Stop or My Mom Will Shoot
2 Stallone Claps = Demolition Man
3 Stallone Claps = Cop Land
4 Stallone Claps = Rocky

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