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Movie Review – The Wrestler: Mickey Rourke Hulks Up

I came out of watching The Wrestler with so many mixed emotions. I was uncomfortable watching every second of the movie, but was amazed by some of the performances. Being the type of wrestling fan I am and being so close to the business since as long as I can remember, the movie is a realistic, yet sad take on the industry that I’ve been watching since I was 9 years old.

Mickey Rourke’s performance as Randy The Ram is more than excellent. I didn’t even see the actor in the movie. I simply saw Randy The Ram as if he were a real person. Rourke was so on the money with his portrayal of the once Hulk Hogan-esque wrestler who was now broke and down on his luck.

(Supposedly, director Darren Aronofsky wanted Rourke all along, but the studio decided that they should go for a more main stream actor and Nicolas Cage became tied to the project. But Aronofsky held out for Rourke and probably had to downsize the budget a bit to make it work. I couldn’t even imagine Cage in the role.)

The reason why I was so uncomfortable watching the movie is because it seemed so realistic. When you watch wrestling, the idea is that you suspend disbelief. It’s a wacky idea right? You have two guys get into a ring and act out their issues with each other through fake fighting. But it was very hard to see anything but a disturbing business based on the movie. Randy The Ram wasn’t selling out the Madison Square Garden anymore. He was wrestling in small buildings where when he would climb the top rope, he would almost hit his head on the ceiling. He was wrestling in front of 200 fans instead of 10,000. He was making a couple hundred dollars instead of hundreds of thousands. You see backstage scenes with many has-beens or never will-bes who are wrestling because they love it, and because it’s all they know.

I didn’t like Marisa Tomei in the film as much as others. I thought her portrayal of Cassidy the stripper was very good, but it was her scenes with Randy The Ram that didn’t work for me. The idea is that Randy The Ram is someone who loves his profession so much that he can’t stop even though his doctor tells him that he shouldn’t wrestle because he’s risking death. And Tomei’s job is paralleled with wrestling in that she’s over the hill too, yet instead of continuing to strip because she loves it, like The Ram with wrestling, she can’t wait to get away and desperately wants to quit. I understood their relationship on that level, but didn’t understand why they liked each other. Their chemistry wasn’t there for me. What was it that she liked about him? I still haven’t figured it out.

But Rourke and Evan Rachel Wood were great together as an estranged father and unforgiving daughter. There’s a great scene that shows him trying to win her love that’s touching and very meaningful. But soon enough (and very predictably) he disappoints her again and you’re left with the idea that it’s always going to be that. There is a scene in the documentary Beyond The Mat in which Jake “The Snake” Roberts disappoints his own daughter much in the same way, and I think that scene might’ve been inspiration for the relationship between The Ram and his daughter.

One thing I hate about wrestling is the hardcore style because to me, it’s an idiotic way to resolve a conflict. I don’t like the usage of staple guns, glass, or thumb tacks in wrestling because for one, it takes away from the art of actual wrestling, and two, it makes wrestling seem completely low rent. There’s a scene where The Ram takes on the Necro Butcher (who is an independent wrestling) and the match is disgusting. You’ll wince when you see the doctor/helper pull the glass out of The Ram’s back. It’s a scene that’s supposed to show you how far he’s fallen and the only thing I could think was, “Why do I even like wrestling?”

You’ll see a steroid sale, a blade job (in addition to The Ram cutting his own blade and hiding it in his wrist tape), and wrestlers talk in wrestling lingo while laying out their match. It’s definitely a partial revealing of the magic act. Yet, I was fine with all of those things. What I wasn’t fine with is how close to reality this movie is. I find it hard to stomach that the industry that I follow and support treats their own like this. The WWE will say that this movie is a portrayal of the independent industry and not their company, but it’s their company that allows this to happen because they treat their wrestlers as contractors and don’t give them benefits or pension plans. And it’s only going to get worse. Rourke’s portrayal of someone who made a lot of money, didn’t save it, and has to resort to taking chair shots to the head in high school gyms in order to make his paltry living is almost too spot on. I probably would’ve enjoyed the movie more so if it wasn’t.

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