On the surface this could have just been another film in the long line of cliched sports films about a former great star who is given one final shot at the big time. Thanks to a terrific performance from its leading man and Darren Aronofsky's decision to take a pseudo-documentary feel to the cinematography means that it manages to transcend the cliches to create a genuinely affecting movie that is not only one of the best in the sports genre but also the best film about wrestling (but that probably isn't too difficult).
I will admit at the beginning that I was a huge fan of wrestling when I was growing up (and I still keep an interest in it despite being unable to follow it as much since I don't have Sky Sports at my flat). This meant that my enjoyment of The Wrestler probably differed from the average moviegoer who had no interest in the antics of Hulk Hogan et all.And so I'll review the film from the aspect of a wrestling fan rather than a film fan. After all there are loads of reviews about the film. Check Rotten Tomatoes to read some of them.
During the nineties when the popularity of WWE/WWF (damn pandas) was at its peak, there was the debate about whether wrestling was "fake" and inspired more heated debates than whether Santa Claus was real or not.
Yes, wrestling is fake, in that the results of the matches are pre-determined but it is very real in terms of the punishment that their bodies go through during the matches. And to the credit of the film it doesn't shy away from these aspects. This expose into the "real" world of wrestling is the film that Vince McMahon would not have wanted you to see.
On one side we see the backstage conversations between the wrestlers as the plot out the matches and the big spots they will use to wow the crowds, then it is followed by the aftermath of a Extreme Rules match where they are getting stitches and superglued after using barbed wire and the old "blading" trick, complete with authentic "holy shit" chants.
Mickey Rourke is fantastic as Randy The Ram, bringing his own past into the role whilst echoing certain characters from the world of wrestling including the Ultimate Warrior and Ric Flair.
He shows the emotional and physical pain that wrestlers put their bodies through, sometimes long after they really should have retired and the fame is gone and they wrestle for a few hundred fans in a community centre.
It is the reaction from the crowd that drives them on, as witnessed in the final moving scene where Randy addresses the fans before wrestling one last match that might kill him. It is all the more painful when thinking of real wrestlers like Eddie Guerrero and Davey Boy Smith who died at a young age of heart attacks, possibly brought on by the pressures on their bodies and steroid use.
Here is the first top 5 list, obviously inspired by High Fidelity which also inspired the name of the blog, and not taken from the feature currently on BBC Film 2010!
Top 5: Performances by a wrestler in a film
1. Jesse Ventura in PREDATOR
This was a no contest in terms of the top spot, there could only be one winner and that goes to Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Not only is he as physically imposing as Arnold, but he actually became a US Governer before the hulking Austrian but he nearly manages to steal the film from him as Blain, a Navy Seal so hard that he carries one of the coolest weapons in the history of cinema, Ole' Painless: a friggin' chain gun that is normally attached to the side of a helicopter.
He also gets some of the best lines in the film including the immortal "I ain't got time to bleed".
2. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in BE COOL
The best thing by a country mile in a bad film that was a terrible sequel to the great GET SHORTY. The performance proved to Hollywood that he could act outside of the squared circle, but it wasn't too much of a stretch for him as he played a Samoan bodyguard who wants to be an actor and has a trick of raising an eyebrow. Well Elmore Leonard did write the character based on The Rock!
3. Rowdy Roddy Piper in THEY LIVE
He came here to chew bubble gum and kick ass and he's all out of bubble gum. One of the first wrestlers to make the crossover to movies after Hulk Hogan and he brings that fast talking sass that worked in Piper's Pit to this battle against an alien invasion which features one of the greatest fight scenes of all time.
4. Andre The Giant in THE PRINCESS BRIDE
Nicknamed the Eighth Wonder Of The World due to his size, he was never the most nimble of wrestlers but his bulk and presence were perfect for Fezzik, the hulking brute with a heart of gold in this fairytale classic.
5. George The Animal Steele in ED WOOD
The only performance on the list where the wrestler plays a wrestler, Steele played Tor Johnson who became part of Ed Wood's cast and crew during the years that would make such classics as Plan 9 From Outer Space.
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Mortified by the lack of Hulk Hogan on the list? Let me know, feedback always appreciated.