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Film Review

The Wrestler

t's hard to imagine a film about pro wrestling that captures your heart. Pro wrestling probably isn't something any one us have ever seen live, but it is essentially choreographed violence in the ring for an audience looking for mayhem and blood. Although it is scripted, the impacts and damage are mostly real and few pro wrestlers grow old without real damage. In The Wrestler, the director, Darren Aronofsky, tells the tale of an older wrestler, The Ram, marvelously played by Mickey Rourke, now 20 years past his prime, who is attempting a comeback because he needs the money. Rourke's character is living in a run down trailer, locked out by the landlord because he is late with his rent again. He has been reduced to playing in second rate matches at American Legion halls, but everyone remembers and respects him for his earlier triumphs. The scenes of the other wrestlers greeting him and their interactions in the locker rooms are wonderful. The wrestlers play themselves, and are clearly a fraternity of sorts, of men who make their living wrestling for a living. They talk before each match, and plan the various violent looking moves so that real damage to each other is minimized. But despite the planning, years of wrestling have taken their toll on the Ram. His face is tribute to those years. Some of the wrestling scenes are brutal, but not with the intent of men attempting to hurt other men. But something happens after one match that changes the Ram's life.

At the same time, he has met a lap dancer at a local joint, Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei. She likes him but is a single mother, and wary of entanglements with customers. Tomei is also marvelous here, and plays Cassidy well, with an edge. The Ram is lonely, and encouraged by Cassidy, decides to connect with his daughter, whom he has not seen or contacted in years. He does, and she understandably is bitter about all those years in which he never even called on her birthday. He attempts to apologize, calling himself "a damaged piece of meat", which says more than he may have intended. There is a very touching scene of their attempt at reconciliation on the boardwalk. Not maudlin or sappy, but genuinely well done.

But Rourke's character has to support himself, so he goes to the supermarket where he works part time to ask for more hours. He ends up behind the deli counter, and despite the humiliation of serving potato salad to complaining customers, does well, and cheers the customers, until someone recognizes him. I don't want to reveal more, but he does end up agreeing to a major rematch with an old competitor, the Ayatollah.

Other directors could easily have spoiled this familiar story of a has-been attempting a comeback, but here Aronofsky has produced a great film without a false note. The acting is outstanding, and the hand held camera work adds to the authenticity. He shows us a world that is a totally different universe to most of us, with a sympathetic, but clear look at ordinary people, without a lot of options, struggling as best they can. I loved this film, and expect it will be a strong Oscar contender (2008) for best picture and acting. Originally opened and still playing at the Metreon, but fortunately just opened at the Bridge. Very worth seeing.

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