The Wrestler

Professional wrestling has always had a strange alure for me. I can’t say that I’ve ever watched very much of it, but the idea that something that was presented as sport, wasn’t fairly contested is just something that goes against all my sensibilities. Of course, these days it’s presented at “Sports Entertainment.”
There’s also the somewhat seedy side away from the “glamour” of the WWE. Us Brits of course (fondly) remember ITV Saturday afternoons with Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks et al. And that was seedy enough.
But that’s nothing to the town hall circuits that seem to exist all over the place. Stray far enough down the EPG on Sky in the sports section and you’ll find the Fight Network which features much of this. Often taking place in small venues with keen fans, you’ll occasionally recognise the name of someone who was once on the books of the WWE.
I guess that it’s at this level of wrestling that we find Randy “The Ram” in The Wrestler. In a role that surely nobody else could have played, Mickey Rourke is The Ram, a wrestler who was at his peak in 2009. An opening montage shows us wrestling memorabilia from his biggest ever bout when he took on The Ayatollah.
Now he lives on a trailer park somewhere on the east coast, where he struggles to make rental payments. Scarily, he’s still appearing in the ring in local town hall bouts. It’s clear that the years and the profession have not been kind to his body. The camera, which often follows him around, in a documentary style, is also not scared of showing how he has to practically tape is his body together. It’s also clear that the cocktail of drugs he needs to keep the pain at bay would put down a horse.
We know that wrestling bouts are fixed, but the scenes in the dressing room before the bouts where wrestlers determine who’s going to do what to who are enlightening. As is the fact, for those who were unaware, that they’re constantly telling each other what they’re going to do for their next move.
The wrestling feels very real, and given that plenty of real wrestlers were involved in the film’s making, that’s not surprising. That’s despite the fact that nobody is going to come away from this film thinking that the “sport” is in any way glamorous.
One hardcore bout features glass, staple guns, and barbed wire alongside more familiar fare like tables, ladders, bins and folding chairs. In one scene, we see The Ram going around a supermarket picking up suitable kit to throw at one another. Yet when the bloody bout is over, the staples have to be pulled out, and stitches put into some of the deeper cuts. It’s not pleasant.
Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy – a stripper – who is beginning to feel, like The Ram, that her best days are behind her, as she struggles to make perhaps as much money as she once did. She’s not really his girlfriend – he’s a client. But it’s a fascinating relationship. As is the one he has with his daughter, Stephanie.
At it’s heart, it’s a sad film. There’s a wonderful scene where The Ram and several other ex-wrestlers are sitting in a room somewhere to meet the fans. Only a handful come through the doors, where they pay a few dollars to have a Polaroid taken with them, or collect a signature. When Randy looks around he sees one uses a walking stick; another is in a wheelchair; and a third has a colostomy bag. Is this to be his future?
There is humour though – a wonderful scene where he works in his local supermarket behind the deli counter, amazed that the manager is willing to put him front of house.
All in all, a cracking portrait of someone who feels real, and I’m certain does exist. Like the professional boxer who goes on too long. Despite the cinema being packed this evening, few were going to see The Wrestler (goodness knows what garbage they were seeing), so catch this while you can. Next week gets another three “serious” films.

1 Comment

  1. “Easy. Easy. Easy. Easy.”
    Oh yes, I totally fell for the fact that some old bloke with the biggest stomach in the history of the planet, not to mention a crap hat, could actually win a wrestling match. I think I actually saw Big Daddy in person at a Butlins when I was a wee nipper.

Comments are closed.