Monday, January 5, 2009


I was out and about in Manhattan on New Year's eve and my friends decided to start the celebration early. But I opted to spend time with THE WRESTLER instead with a promise to join the Chelsea barhopping crowd later in the evening. It was a wise decision indeed and a great choice for my last film for 2008! You have heard all the great things about this film and Mickey Rourke. My review is not going to be any different.

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is a washed-up professional wrestler who was at the top of his career 20 years ago. Nowadays, he works at a grocery store during the week and "sits on another dude's face" on weekends carrying out over-rehearsed moves in make-shift venues at some New Jersey high school gymnasium or VA hall to the delight of nostalgic fans. Either that or he joins other wrestling has-beens for a "legends" meet-and-greet session signing autographs and selling memorabilia to a pathetically small crowd. Money is always tight but this is the life that Randy chooses for himself and he seems to be at peace with it.

Then after one particularly intense match involving barbed wires and a staple gun (ouch!), Randy collapses from a heart attack. His doctor warns him that his heart would not be able to survive another wrestling match. But without wrestling, Randy realizes that he has a very lonely existence. In an attempt to redeem what's left of his life, he pursues his long-time infatuation with his favorite lap dancer Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and tries to reconnect with the (suspected lesbian) teenage daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) he abandoned a long time ago. Oh but the temptation to deliver that one last "Ram Jam" is just too much.

Director Darren Aronofsky abandons his usual bold cinematic techniques (PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, and THE FOUNTAIN) for a gritty and raw look and feel that makes THE WRESTLER even more devastatingly honest and real. It has all the elements that a VH-1 "Where Are They Now?" producer could only dream of. Indeed the parallels between lead actor Rourke's own career and his character's almost make the film a reality-TV segment. But, trust me, it is so much more.

THE WRESTLER has the biggest heart of any films I have seen this year. Thanks for the most part to Rourke's perfect portrayal of the title role. I could never imagine any other actor doing it. He completely captures the essence of Randy when he describes himself as a broken-down slab of meat and blinks tears off his eyes. That scene is guaranteed to melt anyone's heart. His performance reminds me of the understated cool and calm yet piercing sadness that Peter Fonda evokes in 1997's ULEE'S GOLD. I would not be heartbroken if Sean Penn loses the Oscar to Rourke.

The film also confirms the emergence of Marisa Tomei as a very serious actress and proves that she deserves the Oscar trophy on her mantle. Although pretty much snubbed for her impressive supporting work in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD last year, Tomei will definitely be a strong contender this awards season.

The acoustic Bruce Springsteen song (another favorite for an award) at the end is the perfect wrap up for this not-to-be-missed haunting film. Randy "The Ram" is a loser by any definition ... a loveable loser. But THE WRESTLER is definitely a winner.
~ Michael Gamilla

THE WRESTLER opens in Rochester on January 16.

1 comment:

radioman said...

Michael - your review of The Wrestler makes me want to see it all the more! Great job! I have been rooting for Sean Penn for the Oscar for best actor this year, so Mickey must be amazing for you to feel that you wouldn't be disappointed if he takes it.