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Jan 26, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: The Wrestler

There's a scene about halfway through that made The Wrestler for me. It's practically a throwaway scene in terms of the grand scheme of the film, but it's one of those that just adds another layer to the character. You'll see lots of these scenes in independent, character-driven flicks, and to be honest, it's not even so much the action that takes place in it as much as it's the content of said action.

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is feeling down, left with a job he can't physically perform, a daughter he didn't want that now doesn't want him, a love interest that's uninterested, and to top it all off, he gets locked out of his trailer from time to time. Sad and bored and sitting at home one day, he turns to a neighborhood kid and asks him if he wants to play some video games. The kid is one that might've been a fan once upon a time, but is too young and probably sees him as that creepy big guy two trailers down. Nevertheless, he plays. The kid talks video games to him, psyched about the latest Call of Duty game, which Randy, due to being out of touch and hard of hearing, misinterprets beautifully as "Call it doody for." Great as all this is, it's not what did it for me, though.

It's the fact that they're playing a fictional, '80s era wrestling game on the old Nintendo (NES) that prominently features Robinson in his glory days. Randy rules at his game, which of course he should - it would be a shock for anyone with that much pride and/or vanity to have not played it for hours upon hours. The game (titled Wrestle Jam: The Ram vs. The Ayatollah) is onscreen for literally less than 30 seconds, but the fact that the filmmakers (I'm not sure who to credit specifically) didn't just throw in some easily photoshopped game jacket but commissioned someone to craft this fictional game is one of those easily skipped-over details that transform a good movie to a great one (the same could probably be said of Randy's action figure, but for whatever reason, that didn't have the same effect on me).

Of course, there are several other things to enjoy about The Wrestler, many of which have been documented ad nauseam, but some that haven't:

* Naturally, the career-rejuvenating performance by Rourke. Don't call it a comeback...

* Marisa Tomei's complete lack of inhibition.

* The '80s lovin' soundtrack, featuring songs from, amongst others: Ratt, Quiet Riot, Guns 'n' Roses, Scorpions, and the so-obvious-yet-still-perfect usage of Cinderella's "Don't Know What You've Got (Till It's Gone)."

* The beautiful, heart-wrenching (no pun intended) ending. The film simply had to end the way it did. Had any of the alternate paths been chosen, the effect of the film's power would have been stunted tremendously.

* The scene upon where Randy's foray into working the deli counter at his day job (at a supermarket) is juxtaposed with his traditional ring entry. Brilliant.

* The kickass combination of cinematography and editing that made the handful of wrestling scenes the best action scenes I saw on film this past year. What so many who've become fond of hand-held cameras (in action movies) have forgotten is that, despite that "oh so realistic" feel, the audience still needs to know what the hell is going on. Randomly shaking a camera in front of two guys fighting does not an appealing action scene make - and yes, I'm looking at you, Paul Greengrass (and all of your acolytes). The Wrestler manages to take the same kind of wrestling scenes you've seen on TV for decades and make them into a visceral experience that you needn't be a fan of wrestling to enjoy.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"It's in the hole!"


15 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: The Wrestler"

Moviezzz said...

Loved this film, especially that deli counter scene.

Best of 2008, for me so far.

Kyle said...

I agree with Moviezzz, this was my favorite movie of 2008. It really has stuck with me since seeing it. Whereas I found Benjamin Button to be forced emotion, this one seemed far more genuine.

Fletch said...

It's sticking with me as well. I've given it an "It's in the hole," but it's close to a "Best Around" rating. There are a few things holding it back, none of which I felt like including in the review:

* the Christ paralells don't sit well with me. That's certainly not from a religious standpoint (as I'm not), but from a "making the film more important than it should be" standpoint. Really, Darren - he's a wrestler, not Neo.

* the weak daughter storyline - it's handled too quickly and nonchalantly from start to finish. Of the three "leads," she's the thinnest of them all (by far).

* Really? Randy wouldn't have kicked his manager's ass on his way outta Dodge? Minor, but true.

* The general genericness of the story. Well made and fresh-feeling as it is, it's still a story we've seen time and again. One last hurrah!

I'm sure I could think of more if I tried, but you get it. It's great but not my super-tops.

The Mad Hatter said...

LOVED the movie, especially that bit when he's playing the old NES game (I wonder if I can get my hands on that somewhere?).

Great review!

Dead Pan said...

I am with you on your criticisms you stated in the comments except the Christ parallel. Well, I am sort of with you on that. They handle it a little heavy handed but I think it works when Tomei is saying it's like the Passion Of The Christ the film. Not only is it hilarious that she references the movie rather than the actual Bible, but in the way that Christ paid for the worlds sins, The Ram pays for our sin of bloodlust.

I'm sure you already got this aspect, I just wanted to actually get it out there and see what you think.

Entertainment Blog said...

If you are a sport fanatic, sometimes you will find movies inspired by sports event quite unrealistic. It really depends on the actor.

Fletch said...

Thanks, Hatter.

I could maybe see the game being the kind of VIP giveaway that they'd have at an awards show or something like that, but I doubt it will be mass-produced or even put online. Would be cool, though...

DP - Well, when she said that quote and then said it was from POTC, I cracked up. That was so perfectly written - you just know that a stripper might be the type to quote the movie about Christ rather than the Bible.

It's that latter part that I think goes a bit too far. He needn't be a Christ-like figure in any manner for the film to be an effective commentary. Besides, I thought it a much better commentary on the perils and the addictiveness of fame than anything else.

Farzan said...

Great review, also very much enjoyed it

Fox said...

Fletch-

How cool would that be if somebody put out that video game?? It reminded me of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. (And I bet Tyson - like The Ram - spent many house playing that game as well!).

But seriously, and although people like you and I love it for nostalgic reasons (Hell, I would still play R.B.I. on it every day if I still had it!), it's kind of a perfect touch to the set design to have a pathetic little 8-bit Nintendo in The Ram's trailer.

THN said...

Did you just ruin the ending? I figured his character shills his family on a reality TV show, his daughter becomes a whore with fake cans, his son nearly kills somebody and then he starts dating a chick that looks like his daughter. What?

Fletch said...

No, Adam. Actually, the Ram becomes a Governor, then quits that job to star in kids' movies. It's really touching and educational all at the same time.

RIPE Creative said...

Interesting side note: I heard a radio interview with the director the other day... he said since their budget was so low and they couldn't afford to rent a location so all the deli scenes are filmed in a real grocery store, with real customers and deli employees. It was all improv.

THN said...

I guess this might be too late, but I finally watched this last night.

Quick funny story, I was looking for that red Motley Crue shirt that Marisa was wearing at the end of the film a couple of days before I ever saw the movie. I had that shirt when I was in junior high and loved it and wanted to see if I could find it. I'm not sure that I could ever wear it now even if I did find it.

But. The actors in this movie were good. But at the same time, this didn't ring as true to me because I watched Beyond the Mat, so none of this was really earth shattering to me.

But I hope Mickey wins the Oscar for it.

Fletch said...

Adam - was that last part a joke? You know Mickey already lost the Oscar for it, right?

Did you ever find the shirt?

THN said...

Actually, after I wrote that comment, I thought to myself ... It's late May, they probably already did the awards. So I went and looked it up. Bummer that he didn't win.