By Petrakis, John
The Christian Century , Vol. 126, No. 2
Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.
The story of the proud and vital man who has lost his power and nobility is a recurrent theme, especially at the movies. Films have specialized in showing us the washed-up boxer (The Set-Up, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Fat City) and cowboy (Red River, The Gunfighter, Unforgiven). The late director Sam Peckinpah crafted a film career around stories about men who had outlived their time, including lawmen (Ride the High Country), rodeo riders (Junior Bonner) and ruthless killers (The Wild Bunch).
Add to the genre The Wrestler, directed by Darren Aronofsky with Robert Siegel as screenwriter. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler celebrated in the 1980s who is barely hanging on 20 years later. His body and soul are scarred, but he is frightened by the thought of moving on to the next chapter of his life. Instead of hanging up his tights and taking on a less physically demanding job, perhaps even one that can utilize his natural charisma and love of performance, he keeps moving down the ladder of the pro wrestling world, finally fighting for pocket money in makeshift rings in VFW Halls and school gymnasiums.
Watching The Ram move through a world of bloody faces and broken chairs is the best thing about this violent but engaging film. The camaraderie of the wrestlers is fascinating to see. They work out beforehand many of the moves and props they will employ during a bout (they use everything from folding chairs to staple guns). To the young warriors, The Ram is still a legend, a man who has been to the mountaintop.
Beyond the scenes of the wrestlers backstage, the screenplay is unextraordinary and many of the subplots are predictable. There is a workable B story about The Ram's relationship with an aging stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), and a weak C story about The Ram's attempts to reestablish contact with his daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). What makes The Wrestler climb up on the ropes and crow is the uncanny performance by Rourke. …