Mickey Rourke, scarred, gruff and almost unrecognizable from his former glory, makes the comeback of a lifetime in what could be the best movie of the year, Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. A sad, somber tale about a washed up wrestler trying to start a relationship with a stripper and resurrect his floundering career with his daughter, The Wrestler is a mesmerizing tale of a shattered man scorned by life and a past that brought him everything yet destroyed everything as well.
The film is practically unrecognizable as an Aronofsky film, as one would expect shaking refrigerators, floating Hugh Jackmans and lot of cool camera techniques. Instead, The Wrestler is Aronofsky's most grounded picture yet, perhaps a result of his agent telling him that he had to make amends for the overly weird The Fountain. Amazingly, Aronofsky is the right man for the job, as in someone else's hands this picture could have ended up being a stale, visually dull production. From the first second, the visual approach Aronofsky uses pulls you in.
The story itself, by Robert D. Siegel, is surprisingly excellent; I was expecting something like Monster, where the performance is excellent but everything else is so-so. Instead, the movie flows at a somber yet intriguing pace, capturing every essence of Randy The Ram's degrading life. It isn't a happy story, but it is a realistic one; who knew you could relate to a professional wrestler so well.
Of course, the make-or-break is Rourke's performance. In the hands of a lesser man - and there really aren't too many bulked-up actors of any respectable quality that could take on such a role - The Wrestler, no matter how good the screenplay or direction, could have just been another B-grade drama. But Rourke is perfect, delivering his best performance in ages (admittedly, I haven't seen too many of his movies). He's fragile without being cartoony, tough without being dense, and, most of all, human. You feel for him almost immediately, and when his life goes down the drain, you feel his pain.
Marisa Tomei is pretty good in a supporting role, and once again she spends more time naked than clothed. Evan Rachel Wood, in a smaller but pivotal role, delivers a spot-on performance; in fact, she's perfect for the part.
2008 has been a weak year for movies, and The Wrestler doesn't quite match the power of recent powerhouses like There Will Be Blood and some others; still, it comes the closest yet. The Wrestler is a flawless film and easily one of the top three movies of the year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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