By CAINE GARDNER
There's no question, The Wrestler is a tough film to watch. It's dark, it's gritty, it's emotional -- in short, it's brilliant. The flick cuts like razorwire, yet has the sensitivity of an art house film. What an amazing ride.
Director Darren Aronofsky went with a non-storyboard approach and the flick thrives on it. There are very few scenes where conventional blocking is used, with actors and non-actors traversing through the image, giving the film an unbelievable sense of realism. His use of real wrestling audiences for scenes also lends legitimacy to the film.
Filmed at a breakneck pace, Tim Grimes, the film's production designer, states in behind-the-scenes footage that they shot in 37 locations in 37 days. The film was also produced on an ultra-low budget of $6 million dollars, forcing the director and crew to present a product that has real life aesthetics.
Mickey Rourke's performance as Randy "The Ram" Robinson is mesmerizing. Rourke's performance is a tour de force that jumps in your face, punches you in the mouth and leaves you begging for more. The film has been described as the resurrection of Mickey Rourke and I couldn't agree more.
The Ram is a wrestler well past his prime, riding the frayed coattails of a once promising career. Where he was once an up-and-coming star who sold out Madison Square Garden, he now is reserved to participating in various independent wrestling events as a weekend warrior.
His already jagged life is dealt another blow when he has a heart attack and is told he can no longer compete in the ring. With mortality slapping him in the face, he seeks out his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) for one last shot at redemption.
It seems that for all the good that resides in Randy's heart, he can't pull himself out of his own destructive way and watches helplessly as everything he loves falls away.
In an attempt to go out on top, The Ram decides to go through with a bout with his nemesis The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller). The Ram gives an emotional speech to the throngs of faithful fans before the fight and enters the ring for one last rumble.
In addition to Rourke, Wood and Marisa Tomei (Cassidy) give two very powerful performances. Tomei garnered some award nominations, but it's Wood and the fractured dynamic with Rourke that provides some of the most emotional jabs in the flick.
Aronogsky is able to add another layer of complexity to his work with The Wrestler. His past work on Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain has shown that he is a director of extreme vision. He also proved that he can take a minuscule budget and squeeze the life out of it. It will be interesting to see what future endeavors hold.
The single disk DVD is a little disappointing. It comes with no audio commentary, one behind the scene featurette and one music video. The Blu-Ray version of the flick has one added goodie in the way of The Wrestler Round Table, billed as "Gritty truth behind the scenes of wrestling." It features commentary by wrestlers Rowdy Roddy Piper, Lex Lugar as well as others.
Final Cut: Rourke's turn as Randy "The Ram" is without a doubt the best performance of 2008. His powerfully gritty performance has catapulted the actor back to the A-list echelon and we, as movie lovers, are fortunate to have him back.
5 out of 5 stars
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Robert Siegel
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language, some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray April 21
Single Disk DVD
* Within the Ring Featurette
* "The Wrestler" Music Video