Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ring Stings

The Wrestler, Odeon Telford, Saturday January 17 2009, 3pm.

Mickey Rourke's drift from 80s sex symbol to bloated, washed-up self-parody finds possibly deliberate parallels with the story arc of Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a big star in the hair-metal days now going through choreographed motions to dwindling numbers in Darren Aranofsky's The Wrestler (2008). This duality adds an extra level of pathos as the audience roots for The Ram to overcome the many obstacles (advancing years, worsening health, dysfunctional personal life) in the way of making his last redeeming shot of a return to the big-time.

Although the movie has been derided in some quarters as 'a poor man's Rocky', Aranofsky films proceedings in a downbeat documentary style that helps offset any tendencies to sentimentality the plot setup might offer. Aside from Rourke's colossal performance the film's other main strength is that no scene seems wasted, telling little details and nuances littering every shot. A hardcore underground wrestling bout in which Rourke and his combatant set at each other with various hardware items is an instant classic and if your life wouldn't be complete without seeing someone stab Rourke's face with a fork before attacking his chest with a staplegun then The Wrestler is definitely must-see entertainment.

Two other scenes that stand out take place on a deli counter where Randy works weekends during his retirement. His first day on the counter offers a brilliant example of how to make the best of a bad job, his initial consternation when faced with having to recommend the best type of smoked ham giving way to a more relaxed, humourous style as he finds the showman from within. Later in the film and during his darkest moments, Randy somehow rediscovers his mojo and quits his job in spectacular, riotous and predictably bloody fashion.

Much more than just a high-concept sports movie, The Wrestler feels like a tribute to what Iain Dowie once memorably dubbed 'bouncebackability'. The film never once shies away from the more unpleasant aspects of life or indeed the many flaws of its hero, but finds a savage nobility, something to warm to, something to root for, in Randy's erratic but stubborn striving for purpose, connection and redemption in the most unpromising of circumstances. Like many of the best movies, it leaves itself equally open to interpretation as a comedy or tragedy, and is all the better for that.



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