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Powell reviews "The Wrestler" - Did the movie live up to the hype?
Jan 13, 2009 - 12:31 PM


By Jason Powell

There have been many movies that have received so much praise from critics and moviegoers that they couldn't possibly live up to the hype by the time I finally got around to seeing them. The Wrestler is not one of those movies.

I managed to avoid the spoilers, but it was impossible to avoid the critical acclaim regarding the film and Mickey Rourke's performance before the movie finally opened in the Twin Cities over the weekend. I went in with my guard up, yet left overwhelmed by the performances and the movie as a whole.

The camera shots over the shoulder of the Randy "The Ram" Robinson character provided a documentary feel and a made it seem like we were getting a glimpse of life inside the independent circuit. I couldn't help but to watch closely for inaccuracies and there were a couple minor details here and there, but Aronofsky nailed it.

Sure, there could have been more bickering amongst the wrestlers in the locker room or petty complaints over match finishes that have occurred in most indy locker room I've ever been in, but Aronofsky kept the focus on his main character while capturing the nuances of the indy wrestling world. A little thing like Robinson asking Ron Killings if he's buying the drinks that will ring true for anyone who has ever stepped foot in an indy locker room.

Aronofsky didn't take the predictable over the top route by showcasing an evil wrestling promoter. In one of the first scenes, he shows an indy promoter skimping on Robinson's pay, but he avoided making that a theme in the movie. The great thing about the fil is that nothing about it felt over the top despite the over the top world it was set in.

Although it is not an uplifting film, The Wrestler is not a hatchet job on the world of pro wrestling. Robinson's biggest opponent The Ayatollah (played by Ernest Miller) is showcased as a wrestler who reached the same level of success at one time, yet he left the business behind and moved onto a successful career as a car salesman. Sure, it subtly pointed out that the character was still a showman, but the message wasn't that every former wrestler is a washed up loser.

Rourke's performance was amazing. I can't imagine how different this movie might have been they actually cast Nicolas Cage in this role. Rourke "pumped up" (as he told David Letterman) for the role and looked the part, but more important were the small details like his struggles to walk staircases and the way he seemed perpetually tired and beaten down by life.

The deli scene continues to come up in conversations I've had with people in the wrestling industry. Robinson's desire to be called by his wrestling name and his need to perform even while working a mundane job resonated with these performers as much as anything in the film.

Although Rourke's performance is getting all the headlines, Marisa Tomei's portrayal of Cassidy (a/k/a Pam) the stripper coveted by Robinson was sensational. Likewise, Evan Rachel Wood's role as Robinson's neglected daughter was touching and emotional.

The Wrestler is the first truly great movie about professional wrestling. Unlike so many past wrestling movies, this film explored life in the business and wasn't just another rushed attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the genre. It's a simple, yet brilliant film with some of the best acting performances of 2009.

The only thing that concerns me about the movie is that I know there will be some knucklehead indy wrestlers who think the movie "understands them" and is somehow endorsing their poor lifestyle decisions. This is not a feel-good movie, and anyone who is inspired by the Ram character should seek mental health treatment immediately.

Using a five-star scale, I give the movie four stars.
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