I grew up watching wrestling. As a kid, I'd watch WWF's Superstars Of Wrestling every Saturday, faithfully. Even after I found out that the matches were scripted & the outcomes were pre-determined, I still watched. There's just something to that basic battle between face & heel, good versus evil that'll never get old. It wasn't untill I saw the documentary Beyond The Mat, that I started to see a darker side of wrestling & the somwewhat recent deaths of Eddie Guerrero & Chris Benoit, only serve to support the idea that the "sport" takes a hard toll on it's performers,.
The Wrestler stars Mickey Rourke, who gives a totally honest & believable portrayal as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a marquee-level wrestler in the 80's. who in the past 20 years has seen his star power decline considerably, relgating him to the chitlin circuit. Paralleling his real life story of having fallen from grace in Hollywood, this seems to be a role tailor made for Rourke, who physically fits the part of the grizzled grappler to a tee. The story itself is the standard tale of the washed up warrior looking for one last chance for glory and even though the film is stunted by it's predictability, Mickey Rourke's performance is gripping & engaging untill the very last scene. There's also the "aging stripper with the heart of gold" that Randy takes an interest in, played by Marisa Tomei, who's actually kinda hot in a MILF sorta way & brings a vulnerability to the part that makes her engaging to watch, as well as the estranged daughter who Randy tries to win over (annoyingly portrayed by Rachel Evan Wood).
The jittery, free hand camera style adds a documentary-like feel to the gritty, bleakness of Randy's world of trailer parks, low rent strip joints & school gymnasium locker rooms. The best part of the movie is the realistically choreographed wrestling scenes which are as kinetic & visceral as anything from Raging Bull, Rocky or Fight Club. It's in the ring where Rourke's past boxing training comes in handy because as a wrestling fan, nothing looked faked & I couldn't tell when Rourke's performance ended & the stunt double's began, if there any were stunt doubles at all.
Yeah, The Wrestler is completely derivitive of movies like the aforementioned Rocky & Raging Bull, which tackle the same themes & pretty much do it better, but Mickey Rourke delivers one of my favorite performances of the year, certainly strong enough to merit an Oscar nomination, if not win the whole thing.