I was surprised I hadn’t already featured The Wrestler here at Friday’s Finest. This documentary style – minimalist film gave it a subject with an immense intimacy and as an audience member you felt entirely immersed in The Wrestler’s small world and personal connections. Mickey Rourke gives a phenomenal performance as the ageing professional wrestler and was unfortunate not to win best actor at the Oscars. He won just about every other leading actor award that year, but lost out to Sean Penn in Milk.
This is a drama about an aging professional wrestler, decades past his prime, who now barely gets by working small wrestling shows in VFW halls and as a part-time grocery store employee. As he faces health problems that may end his wrestling career for good he attempts to come to terms with his life outside the ring: by working full time at the grocery store, trying to reconcile with the daughter he abandoned in childhood and forming a closer bond with a stripper he has romantic feelings for. He struggles with his new life and an offer of a high-profile rematch with his 1980s arch-nemesis, The Ayatollah, which may be his ticket back to stardom.
Not only does Mickey Rourke impress beyond expectations, but the supporting cast Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood are superb and give this movie so much depth. Interestingly, Nicolas Cage entered negotiations to star as Randy, but Mickey Rourke replaced him in the lead role.
There is one scene in particular of Rourke trying to mend his relationship with his estranged daughter (Wood) which is gut-wrenchingly beautiful. I had completely forgotten I was looking at Mickey Rourke. That guy on the screen simply was Randy ‘the Ram’ Robinson. The film received universal acclaim and Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave the film positive reviews.
As an audience member you feel privileged, but a little daunted to be thrust behind the scenes of what really goes on in Wrestling. What we all knew was a staged, high-octane spectacle isn’t as glamorous as we may have been led to believe. The Wrestler presents us with the reality of what these wrestlers have to contend with daily and the risks they take-on in order to entertain the public. The movie itself feels like a risky proposition to unleash the inner sanctum of this previously hidden world into the spotlight, but it is deftly handled and exudes great respect for the Wrestling fraternity. It’s a bit like a high wiring act to just get the mood, the stunts and the performances at their optimal.
Below, I have presented Bruce Springsteen’s title song from the movie. Rourke told Springsteen about his upcoming film and asked if Springsteen could write a song for it. Springsteen subsequently did, played it for Rourke and director Darren Aronofsky before a concert. When they liked it, Springsteen gave them the song for no fee. The song was widely expected to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song where Springsteen would perform it on the awards show, but in what Rolling Stone termed “shocking news”, it was denied a nomination when the Academy nominated only three songs in the category rather than the usual five.