There can’t have been too many oohs and aahs when Darren Aranofsky announced he was making a film about wrestling. After all, it hasn’t exactly been a fertile source material for film-makers. From the limp Nacho Libre to the mondo B-movies of Mexican legend El Santo, via the efforts of Hulk Hogan, shitness has been the over-riding theme.
But there’s one major exception - the 2003 documentary Beyond The Mat, a highly watchable affair that looked past the grand posturing and looked at the tragic sadness that tended to dominate the lives of the wrestlers’ once they’ve past their peak - a sad notion explored to greater and more compelling effect here by Aranofsky.
Way past his peak and with the limelight of his 80s heyday long gone, grappler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) now ekes out a meagre living at the arse end of the wrestling circuit, taking shifts at the local supermarket just to make ends meet.
His body already a wreck, he suffers a near-fatal heart attack after taking an almighty beating in a violent hardcore match, with his doctor warning him that another fight could kill him.
Forced to give up the thing he loves doing most and the lingering adulation that came with it, he sets about repairing his fraught relationship with the daughter he neglected (Evan Rachel Wood), while trying to make something serious of the friendship with stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). But life in the real world proves no easier for Randy and the offer of a major payday, in the form of a rematch of his most famous bout, lurks in the background.
From the devastating opening shot that pitches The Ram as an isolated and broken man, The Wrestler is a stunner. With the plot stripped down to bare bones and using a faux documentary style, it heightens the depths to which Randy has fallen and the sacrifices that he has made for the sake of his career.
Many of the key moments flirt with being clichéd, but Aranofsky goes with what would be realistic over what would be cinematic, and this makes it resonate like a bastard. Using real wrestlers and real fans allows it to come across as a labour of love, while the casting of Rourke, an actor who’s seemingly looking at his best days in the rear-view mirror, just makes it all the deeper, his own past problems serving to amplify Randy’s. To think it could have been Nicolas Cage in the main role.
Entertaining, fresh, expertly crafted and as wry as it is moving, The Wrestler is a weighty tale of personal sacrifice that even haters of wrestling would be impressed by.
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei.
Directed by: Darren Aranofsky
Extras: featurettes, Mickey Rourke interviews