The Wrestler is one of those films that comes to release already laden with praise of the highest order. A crowd and critic favourite of the Toronto International Film Festival, particularly because of the performance of its lead Mickey Rourke, a film this highly praised is always in danger of disappointing once a wider audience has a chance to see it.
But is it over-praised? Not in the slightest; the praise is entirely warranted but slightly one-sided. Although the performance of Mickey Rourke as a "broken down piece of meat" is quite stunning, there's more to this emotional, strangely touching, and at times heart-wrenching film.
The Wrestler tells the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a former god of the professional wrestling world now reduced, 20 years later, to a man past his prime but still clinging to his glory days. He thrives on the admiration of his dwindling fan base. He still wrestles so he can try to pay his rent before his landlord kicks him out, and out with his physical activity he is alone, working at any job that pays. His only contact with someone that even resembles a friend is with a stripper whose glory days are also behind her.
But following an unexpected heart attack after an unusually brutal match, he is told by his doctor to either stop wrestling or risk his life. He has to now re-assess his life, deciding to pluck up the courage to try and reconcile things with his daughter who he abandoned when she was a little girl and to start a relationship with his stripper friend.
As is inevitable, but never understandable, the studio has marketed The Wrestler as only part of what is actually is. The adverts and posters play up the wrestling part of the story (along with, of course, the much used positive critic quotes) but that's only a small part of it. At its heart The Wrestler is subtle character study of a man broken and past his prime, just trying to make ends meet and live in any way he can. Rourke's role as Randy is his first fully three-dimensional character in a very long time and will most likely be remembered as a career-defining performance. He plays the character with much needed subtlety and sensitivity, never once overplaying it. He plays Randy always as a believable, real human being instead of a two-dimensional character. He's already won Best Actor honors at the Golden Globes and it's not outside the realm of possibility that he could nab the Oscar too. And he thoroughly deserves it.