Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Wrestler (2009)



Plot Summary: A drama centred on retired professional wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson as he makes his way through the independent circuit, trying to get back in the game for one final showdown with his former rival.

Until its surprising win at the Venice Film Festival relatively little was given away about The Wrestler. The premise was vague and there had only been a few amateur YouTube clips and set pictures floating around. Rumours started to circulate that Aronofsky had ditched his trademark stylistic approach and worry began to grow amongst fans as promotional material failed to surface. Having now been released worldwide it becomes clear that although the film restrains itself from the use of such striking film techniques which typified his previous work, the film nevertheless constitutes a considerable and memorable triumph in cinematic storytelling.

Far more than a vehicle for Mickey Rourke to merely flex his acting muscles the film turns out to be a sombre and slow chronicle of a desperate and lonely man in which I found myself entirely captivated with from start to finish. Rourke does do an incredible job, seemingly reliving past experiences as much as he is acting fictional ones. Much talk has been made of the parable one can read between Randy’s story arc and that of Rourke’s life, while making the role even more believable for fans does not detract anything for audiences unfamiliar with the actor also. He pours every inch of himself physically and mentally into the character and it shows. Rourke manages to make a potentially detestable man (letting his family down, lying to friends and thoroughly self-destructive behaviour) a utterly loveable one due to his honest and often amusing portrayal of a man trying to better himself.

The film was shot in winter and as such the film is full of grey skies and strong winds which perfectly compliment the contemplative atmosphere of the film. As mentioned the film is far less stylistic than say Requiem for a Dream or The Fountain and instead attempts to capture a more realistic, almost documentary feel with its numerous long takes and hand-held tracking shots. This held back approach arguably draws the audience in even further to the world of the film and showcases Aronofsky’s ability to connote emotion without relying on fancy camera work or visuals. There are, however, one or two stylistic flourishes such as the first entrance to the deli in which the sound of cheers can be heard, echoing the previous wrestling entrance scenes, enhancing our understanding of the character and his motivation (or lack of).

The soundtrack is half diagetic 1980s metal songs and half Clint Mansell’s touching score which at once demonstrates Randy’s image and taste but also portrayes his emotional plight extremely effectively. It is also worth mentioning that the fight scenes, although not the focus of the plot do feature often and are very well choreographed. The ensuing wounds the wrestlers suffer are also very authentic thanks to some impressive prophetic effects and really had me feeling their pain. The cliff-hanger ending and unresolved plot strands were particularly brave and much more realistic than seen in similar films. We don’t get closure; everything does not get better and everyone does not make-up in the end. The film leaves these questions open and for the audience to interpret themselves which is at once frustrating but also highly intellectually rewarding. The Wrestler is one of the lesser known films in the ongoing Oscar race but I urge everyone to not let the wrestling context put them off and to watch this extremely emotionally engaging piece of filmmaking as soon as they get the chance.

Final Verdict: 9/10

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