‘Shattered’ is an old Rolling Stones song from the ‘Some Girls’ album. It opens with Mick Jagger wailing the line ‘love and hope and sex and dreams are still surviving on the street.’
And for a film that doesn’t include any Stones’ standards in the soundtrack, The Wrestler captures this theme so completely that you can’t leave the theater anything but drained from this compelling and disturbing work.
There has been so much advance buzz about Mickey Rourke and his role as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, and if ever an actor not only rises to the meet the hype provided by publicists, but possibly exceeds it, Rourke does right here. This is a career performance. And it’s a career performance in a role that captures Rourke in many ways, and for which Rourke literally bared all to play. Perhaps this may not be acting for some, it’s certainly not method when it comes this close to home, but it’s revealing, and dark, and raw, and at time had to be painful.
Rourke as “The Ram” is twenty years on from the big time, when he was the big name in professional wrestling. Now, he’s a self-described broken down piece of meat complete with hearing difficulties, a shattered family life, and a financial situation in need of a bailout worse than that of anyone now waiting in line from the Feds. He’s alone, hurt, and confused, as he tries to claw his way out of the spot he created for himself, and into a relatively normal working class life.
Along the way he meets up with Marisa Tomei’s Cassidy, your good hearted stripper de jour. The difference here is that the love we see developing is real, the characters are older, and the opportunities, for each, are fleeting. Tomei’s performance is as strong as Rourke’s, and is one that for her had to pose great professional risk. There aren’t many 40-something actresses out there who would do the scenes she performed in this film, let alone nail them as she did.
But with director Darren Aronofsky, actors have learned to trust what he asks of them. Since his breakthrough ten years ago with Pi, Aronofsky has presented complex stories with a guiding hand. His actors seem to dig deeper into themselves to present their characters, and in many instances, have to literally reveal themselves in order to perform.
Unlike Pi and Requiem for a Dream, this film proceeds in linear form, without camera tricks or major audio enhancements. The hip-hop montage credited to Aronofsky is not evident here. And with an 80’s soundtrack heavy on Metallica and Guns-and-Roses, and an on screen shout out to Axl Rose, this is a straightforward tri-State suburban boys film, complete with popular references and location shooting that screams JERSEY.
Beyond location, there’s a reality in the grittiness that Aronofsky enhances with his both the grainy film stock and multiple wrestler cameos. Even after “The Ram” decides to retire, and move on to what he hopes will be a normal life, you know that the allure of the ring will call him back. There’s an early scene where The Ram is at a signing event with other wrestling old-timers. The films best shot tracks The Ram as he scans the battered, beaten and abused bodies of his brethren across a squared circle of card tables. From cane to crutch to wheelchair to catheter, this shot captures it all, and reminds the Ram of what’s in store for him if he decides to continue in the ring.
The film continues on to a somewhat predictable ending. How it gets there does provide for a twist and an emotional tug, or two, or three. So don’t get grossed out by the blood, by the violence, or by the painfully bad 80’s music. Revel in these performances, by the maturing and depth presented by Evan Rachel Wood as The Ram’s abandoned daughter, and by the remarkably brilliant roles filled by Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei.