Friday, March 20, 2015

The Wrestler (2008)

With Wrestlemania 31 just over a week away, I thought it be best to keep up the wrestling theme with the random movie blog of the month covering a film focusing on the darker side of the squared circle with 2008's critically acclaimed indie film, The Wrestler (trailer). The people at FOX Searchlight wanted to partner up initially with WWE to promote it, but WWE refused because of the dark portrayal of the sport not matching WWE's corporate views. However, once The Wrestler started to garner a lot of positive critical buzz and even a couple Oscar nominations, WWE begrudgingly latched on to promote it at Wrestlemania 25, with the film's star Mickey Rourke making a guest appearance and getting into a little scuffle in the ring with Chris Jericho.

Mickey Rourke stars as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who once was a huge pro wrestling star of the 80s, but is now well past his prime, competing in front of crowds no longer in the tens of thousands, but instead of just a few hundred in the independent circuit in 2009. The opening act does a great job at setting the stage of what life is like for Randy now in 2009. He unfortunately is like a lot of former pro wrestlers nowadays who were not wise with their money who try to stay too far past their prime to get every dollar possible by working weekend shows, and having manual labor day jobs and selling his own custom merchandise at low attended fan expos.

Randy lives in a rundown trailer he is constantly locked out of whenever he is late on rent. His only friends are a stripper by the name of Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) he frequently visits to toil away his life's problems to, and a neighborhood kid who gets frustrated at getting whooped by Randy in old school Nintendo wrestling games. A traumatic event later in the film inspires Randy to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) to no avail. Whenever things start to look up for Randy, he keeps getting sucker punched to reality in this heart-wrencher of a film.

As I mentioned in the intro, The Wrestler is a pretty depressing picture of what life after wrestling is like for many former grapplers. The low budget nature of this indie film actually works to this film's benefit to help capture the dark, gritty feel it has throughout. There are three main matches featuring the Ram taking on a few opponents at various indie wrestling leagues. WXW, Combat Zone Wrestling and Ring of Honor all cooperated with FOX to let them film the matches with very gracious and cooperative crowds in the middle of their wrestling shows. They are not 15-20 minute affairs as they would most likely be if you were to attend a headlining match at an actual live wrestling event, but nice abbreviated two to three minute scenes that do not overstay their welcome, but provide plenty of up close shots of all the weaponry being used that resulted in a lot of bloodshed in the no rules, anything goes match in the middle of the film. Wrestling fans keeping a keen eye will recognize many big and minor stars making cameos throughout the film.

I do not mind the film showing how the business works with the wrestlers talking their way through their spots before and during the match, and showing how wrestlers bleed during matches and how the wrestlers conduct themselves in the locker room. They lay a lot of the inner workings of the business out there on screen, yet do not exactly spell out how it all works, but provide plenty of context I feel for non-wrestling fans to piece together how the business works. Suffice it to say, you do not need to be a fan of wrestling to enjoy this film, much like how you do not need to be a fan of boxing to enjoy classics like Rocky or Million Dollar Baby or a fan of MMA to enjoy Warrior. Like those films, The Wrestler is about the character's journey along the way, and in the end they are the driving force that get you to care about them, not the sport they compete in. Rourke and Tomei are fantastic in their roles as these characters, and both of their hard work was recognized with Oscar nominations (a lot of film buffs went on to say Rourke was robbed of the award at the Oscars, but it is worth noting he did win Best Actor of the Year awards in other highly reverent award shows like the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs).

Bruce Springsteen also won a Golden Globe for his original song he provided for the soundtrack. Speaking of which, I love how almost the entire soundtrack is an excellent arrangement of 80s hair metal. It perfectly captures the old "Rock 'n Wrestling" era of the 80s that was Randy's heyday in the business. The Ram even has Quiet Riot's "Metal Health" as his entrance theme to get you pumped up for his matches!

Springsteen's music video is included as an extra feature. The BluRay edition of The Wrestler has two more extras, one is a 42 minute behind-the-scenes piece called Within the Ring. It is an in depth take on how the film came to be, and goes in depth about filming on location at actual wrestling events, scouting other locations, casting the main roles and interviews some of the wrestlers featured in the film about how accurate the film's portrayal of the business is. Lastly, there is Wrestler Roundtable, which is a 25 minute interview session where a moderator sits down with past wrestling legends Brutus Beefcake, Lex Luger, Diamond Dallas Page, Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine and gets their thoughts about the film and they all share some of their past stories from the road.

There are a lot of films that came out over the years based upon wrestling. Unfortunately, while some of them are at best 'so bad they are good' guilty pleasures like Ready to Rumble, most of them are quite awful. The Wrestler is a much needed, legitimately good and respectful take on the sport that is pro wrestling. While WWE likely shuns this film for not being an in-house made puff piece like No Holds Barred was in the 80s, it perfectly captures the dark side of wrestling that is still a major factor of the business. Again, it is worth reiterating that you do not need to be a fan of the sport to enjoy this film, as the characters and their journey throughout the film transcend the career they are a part of and are ultimately the core of The Wrestler you care about most.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Marine 3: Homefront
Marine 4: Moving Target
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

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