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DVD Review: The Wrestler

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The Wrestler is a movie that makes grown men cry. A bruising drama about one fighter’s life inside and outside the ring, I thought it maybe got too intense. But what else do you expect from Director Darren Aronofsky who makes provocative films like Pi and Requiem for a Dream?

Randy “The Ram” (Mickey Rourke), a former big-time wrestler approaching 50, still competes in a minor league circuit. After suffering a major heart attack, doctors tell him he can’t wrestle anymore. As Randy searches for ways to fill his empty life, his only friend, an aging stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), suggests Randy reconnect with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachael Wood). But has he spent so much time wrestling that he can’t cope with normal life?

No split decisions here, The Wrestler is a well-made drama. But the downbeat nature will test some of the audience. The underdog hero, Randy, evokes more pity than sympathy. It’s kind of sad watching an old man juicing himself up with steroids before a match. Randy lives in a trailer park when he isn’t locked out of it for unpaid rent. Unlike other sports dramas, nobody else is willing to strain themselves babying a grown man. The Wrestler gives old movie clichés gritty realism that may not be for everybody.

Darren Aronofsky pulls you into Randy’s life so close you smell more of him than you want to. Known as an experimental filmmaker, Aronofsky also directed Pi about a mathematician driving himself insane searching for the answer to life in numbers. The Wrestler is a bit more conventional Hollywood film. Still, he finds lots of ways to shock you visually and sonically. Much of the film is composed of grimy moving camera shots following Randy around. The pain inflicted on Randy makes you recoil especially during a match involving a ring filled with barbed wire and broken glass.

During Oscar time, the press chirped about Mickey Rourke’s Best Actor award snub. I was having such a bipolar reaction to the film that I couldn’t focus solely on the acting. He plays Randy like a cross between Hulk Hogan and “Dog”the Bounty Hunter. Rourke’s mangled face expresses what his character is feeling more than I thought possible. The whole cast gave great performances. Evan Rachael Wood nailed her small part as Randy’s daughter, Stephanie. She unflinchingly portrays a girl who doesn’t quickly forget her dad’s failures as a parent. None of her smoldering reactions towards her father seemed unnatural.

What kept my attention through sometimes too-heavy scenes was how the film compared itself to real tragedies experienced by wrestlers. Randy may be an overly flawed brawler, but his story felt believable while watching the movie. For any wrestling fans reading this, I hope you show a little restraint before letting a wrestler use your prosthetic leg to bash someone in the head.

Movie Grade: B+

Bonus Features
I love the sepia-toned photo of “The Ram” leaping from the top ring turnbuckle. The roughly 45-minute making-of/production diary “Within the Ring” covers Aronofsky’s filmmaking approach decently. No wonder the casting was so awesome; they used real wrestlers at real events with real fans. But I really was hoping the studio was going to include commentary by real wrestlers about the movie. Given that former WWE superstar Rowdy Roddy Piper bawled at the Wrestler premiere, it seems natural. That’s slightly disappointing. Hey, will somebody give Piper a tissue.

DVD Grade: B

Bonus Features Include: 

Within the Ring

The Wrestler Music Video – Written and Performed by Bruce Springsteen

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About Kevin Gustafson

  • I finally watched this over the weekend. I really enjoyed it. It was very well done, and I think the ending was brilliant!

    I have to say that I think it was fair that Best Actor went to Sean Penn, though. Rourke, on many levels, played himself. Also, he didn’t have all that much dialogue. Penn had to totally embody a living character, and a socially risky one at that.

    You mentioned a 45 minute behind the scenes doc. I got mine through Netflix, and it didn’t have any bonus stuff on it. Is the in store release a 2 disc set?

    Anyhow, great film. I would give it 4.5 stars, out of 5.

    *** spoiler alert ***

    I love that the film resolves nothing. Does he keep the gal? Does he ever reconcile with the daughter? Does he keep wrestling? Does he live to the end of that match?

    It was much more like real life in that sense. Beautifully done, and I got to make up my own ending.

  • Kevin Gustafson

    Wow, nothing on the Netflix version? The in-store version is a single disc.