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Wrestler, The (DVD Review)

13 Apr, 2009 By: John Latchem

The Wrestler

Street 4/21/09
Box Office $26.1 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.99
Rated ‘R’ for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.
Stars Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller.

In the wake of esoteric fare such as π, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, The Wrestler is perhaps Darren Aronofsky’s most straightforward film, and thus his most accessible.

I suspect the film will appeal most to viewers who already consider themselves wrestling fans and will understand from whom the filmmakers are drawing influence. The backstage scenes touch upon pro wrestling’s trade secrets, known in the industry as kayfabe — the art of presenting staged events as legitimate.

But this really isn’t a film about wrestling. Nor is it Rocky re-cast for the pro-wrestling crowd. It’s a grungy love story about a man who sacrifices his body for the enjoyment of others, and the devastating effect his self-destructive lifestyle has on those around him. The fights may be scripted, but the pain is real, and Aronofsky doesn’t shy away from depicting the bloody brutality of the sport.

Mickey Rourke shines as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a relic of the 1980s struggling to hold onto the fame that has long since passed him by. Rourke’s own well-publicized troubles undoubtedly fuelled his performance, making it hard to imagine how the film would work with anyone else in the role. This is a deeply personal story of a man taking stock of his life and learning how to value the things in it.

As Randy struggles to make ends meet on pro-wrestling’s indie circuit, a promoter offers him a chance to relive his glory days with a rematch against his most legendary opponent, The Ayatollah. But years of abusing steroids and drugs are taking their toll, and Randy must consider the future. Caught up in the mix are his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and a stripper (Marisa Tomei) with whom he would prefer to be more than just a client.

There’s more than enough good stuff here to make this easily the best pro-wrestling movie ever made, way ahead of such dreck as No Holds Barred and Ready to Rumble, though I think a definitive movie dealing with kayfabe could still be out there.

The DVD is rather sparse on extras, consisting of a singular making-of featurette that includes interviews with Aronofsky, writer Robert Siegel (former editor in chief of The Onion) and other cast and crew members; and a Bruce Springsteen music video for the film’s award-winning title song. It’s a catchy tune, but constant close-ups of Springsteen singing to the camera make the video a bit unsettling.

The Blu-ray also includes a wrestler roundtable.

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