Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Watch The Wrestler online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Remember that day when you were 10 years old and you found out wrestling was fake? A spandex-fuelled sham? Well, Darren Aronofsky is about to hit your inner 10-year-old over the head with a chair; more than anything else, The Wrestler is definitely one thing: authentic.
Shot on gritty, grainy handhelds, it charts the twilight of Randy “The Ram” Robertson (Rourke); stopped dead in his tracks by a dodgy ticker, he’s now literally wearing his last tights. Scraping together the rent for his mobile home from poorly paid gigs and a supermarket job, his life is defined by one thing: wrestling. Behind a deli counter, wearing a hair net, his main complaint is his name badge, “Robert”.
Outside of the ring, his identity is lost. His estranged daughter, Stephanie (Wood), refuses to see him, and Cassidy (Tomei), a stripper friend, isn’t keen to mix work and real-life. Facing a rematch with an old rival – a used car dealer, also known as the Ayatollah – he pitches his hopes for a comeback on one last fight. This is a place where staples bleed, chairs hurt, and prosthetic limbs are fair game.
Wisely, Robert Siegel’s script balances the downbeat realism with black comic moments, affectionately drawn from the warped showbusiness that is pro-wrestling. The end piece is something approaching perfection, milking from Mickey a tender and gruff performance; Randy is clearly the part he has lived his life to play. His honesty is so overwhelming that it turned his daughter from a plot-function into a character, a washed-up old man into a galvanizing hero, and a low-key budget piece into an awards favourite. He coulda been a contender? Like Brando and DeNiro, Rourke definitely was.