The Wrestler (2008)

I’m sure Hogan really does know what’s best.

Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler who continues to wrestle matches in an attempt to cling on to his 1980’s heyday despite his failing health, while also trying to mend his relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and find romance with a stripper (Marisa Tomei).

Some of you may not know this (and if you do, mucho brownie points go out to you), but back in the day, I used to be a hardcore wrestling fan. Yeah, I knew it was fake. Yeah, I knew that the two guys dressed-up in speedos that were beating the shit out of each other didn’t really hate each other outside of the ring. And yeah, I knew it was a bit childish for a kid that was in 8th grade, but you know what? I watched it and loved it all for the same reasons I watch and love movies so much: entertainment-value. That’s what’s so fun about wrestling that you don’t need to have a brain, a PHD, or even a job to enjoy wrestling, you can just watch it and have a good time. Seriously, if you don’t watch a single match of professional wrestling, then you my friend, are totally lying to yourself.

However, as much as I may patronize the other people out there who don’t feel the same as I do when it comes to half-naked men rolling around and beating each other up, I still feel the same about this movie as any other professional wrestling fan in saying that I love this movie, not just because it shows some legitimacy and real-danger to a piece of entertainment that has been the butt of every joke since the 80’s, but because it shows us what wrestlers are when they aren’t in the ring: real people. Maybe that’s nothing new we haven’t already heard from countless other stories of the same-nature, but what I think makes this approach so different and timeless, is the fact that director Darren Aronofsky makes us feel as if we are there, along for this depressing, dark, and tormented ride.

Nothing says family-daughter bonding more than aimless walks on a deserted New Jersey Boardwalk.
Nothing says family-daughter bonding more than aimless walks on a deserted New Jersey Boardwalk.

This is probably the most normal piece of material that Aronofsky has ever touched and to be honest, you would not be able to tell from watching this that this was the same guy who made a movie where people get sped-up high for an hour and 40 minutes. There’s nothing flashy that Aronofsky pulls off here with the camera but what he does do with the camera, is actually make us feel as if we are there, in a sort of documentary-style way. The camera literally follows Randy wherever he goes and it’s sort of like a TV news crew just found the guy, decided to put the camera on him, and just let real life roll for the guy. It gives us a very candid, fly-on-the-wall look at this story and makes us feel as if everything we see, hear, feel is as natural as it can get. That’s not just from Aronofsky’s end of the spectrum, that’s from everybody else involved, especially you know who.

In case you couldn’t tell by the “you know who” I was just referencing in that last sentence, I was talking about Mickey Rourke in his perfect-performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. It’s obvious that Randy is based-off of the likes of such wrestling-stars like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Ultimate Warrior, and so many other famous-faces of the squared-circle from the 80’s, but don’t let that get to you, because Rourke makes Randy his own piece of originality and thank heavens for that. Seriously, I think Mickey is in every single shot of this movie and in some movies, to some people, that would probably be torture that you would have actually had to pay to see for 2 hours, but instead with this movie and this performance, it’s the total-opposite. You will never want to take your eyes off of Mickey and all of the subtle nuances he pulls-off with his facial-expressions. You can tell that there is a battered and beaten soul underneath all of the tanned skin, blonde hair, and chiseled-up, but aging muscles, and you never forget that you’re watching Randy, even if Mickey totally takes over the whole-movie.

As sad as this character may be, Mickey brings out so much fun, excitement, and joy within this guy that you just can’t help but feel like you too would want to share a beer and play Nintendo with him as well. You can tell that a lot of the scenes here are totally ad-libbed from Mickey and it just gives this movie more of a natural feel, as if Mickey decided to walk into the shoot everyday, do his part, but also have a lot of fun with the rest of the cast as well. As I said before, you are never going to want to take your eyes off of Rourke here because he always has something to show you, always has something to surprise you with, and best of all, always has something to make you fell more and more for this guy, no matter how much he screws-up.

If more strippers looked like Marisa Tomei, I'd probably be broke.
If more strippers looked like Marisa Tomei, I’d probably be broke.

There is so much about this character that just screams, “PREDICTABLE, PREDICTABLE, PREDICTABLE!”, but Mickey is above that and makes this guy feel like he has more of a heart than you could ever expect from a low-life like him. Every chance that Randy gets to make life happy for himself and the others around him, he finds his own way of just screwing it up and rather than being pissed at this guy and losing all hope in him, you’re still pissed at him but feel as if he can change, and feel like he just deserves a break. That’s the work of magic from Rourke, because he is able to give us a character that is so selfish, so idiotic sometimes, and so burnt-out without ever admitting it, but yet, still have us love the guy to death and feel as if we are cheering him on, just as much as his wrestling fans are. It’s one of the best performances I have ever seen and it’s one that Rourke was freakin’ robbed of and without Mickey, this film just would have not succeeded. Yeah, if they went with Nic Cage like they had originally-planned, things would have been a hell of a lot different come Oscar-time.

Another character that is basically Randy “The Ram” but with tits and more naked than he is throughout the whole movie, is Marisa Tomei as Cassidy. Tomei is playing the usual, “hooker with the heart of gold” role, but knowing Tomei and what she can do with any role you throw at her, she changes it up and makes her feel more raw than you’d ever expect from this gal. Cassidy is a lonely, sad, and aging piece of work, just like Randy, but still feels the need to push the ones away from her that still may make a difference in her life. Watching her and Randy interact with one-another, shoot the shit, and pretty much start to connect with each other more than they have with anybody else, is a thing of beauty and I think all of that is mainly because of the chemistry between the two. Evan Rachel Wood is good as Randy’s estranged daughter, Stephanie and even if she may be the weakest-link out of the three, that still doesn’t mean jack shit because she is still so good, providing us with great insight into a character that wanted to be loved and held, just as much as Randy does now.

Still fake, right?
Still think it’s fake, right?

These three performances are mainly who tie this film together with it’s neat and nice little bow at the end, but I’m telling you, this flick will take you down a dark, sad road you may feel very affected by. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not totally depressing and in-fact, will actually have you laughing a good, couple of times throughout. However, when the film wants to make you feel any type of emotion that has to do with sad, heartfelt, or touching, it hits the spot right away. You can say that’s because of Rourke, you could say that’s because of Tomei, and you could that’s because of Aronofsky, but I say it’s every single piece of this puzzle is what makes it so damn near-perfect, and yes, after 4 years and seeing it just about 5 times, I still cried my eyes-out like a big freakin’ baby and you know what? That’s alright with me, because once Monday Night hits, I’m watching RAW baby!

Consensus: Whether or not you’re a fan of professional wrestling, won’t matter because The Wrestler is about more than just a bunch of guys fake-fighting in a trampoline/ring. It’s a perfectly-acted, somber-look at the life of a broken and depressed old-man that is starting to come to terms with where his life is going, why it’s headed there, and what he can do to make right again. It’s an emotional-trip that still hits me where it hurts all of these years later.

9.5/10=Full Price!!

Sad to say, but at this stage in Ric Flair's career, Mickey Rourke probably has more wrestling-skills than him.
Sad to say, but at this stage in Ric Flair’s career, Mickey Rourke probably has more wrestling-skills than him.


  1. Excellent review.

    Glad to see you appreciate this movie. Its phenomenal.

    It’s an excellent, excellent film. I will forever feel that Rourke got jobbed out of an Oscar here. 😦 Should have been his. He was great…

  2. This is one of my favorite films ever. I really hope it gets a special Criterion edition real soon. Oh, Hulk Hogan claims he was offered the role for that movie. Yeah, like the time he claimed that he auditioned to play bass for Metallica. Man, he’s so full of shit.

    • Hulk Hogan’s a fuckin’ joke that just was jealous that Rourke could pull off more moves than he ever could or would be able to. I never, ever want to see that publicity stunt…I mean…sex tape of his.

  3. Growing up as a huge wrestling fan I thought the film did a phenomenal job portraying underground wrestling. The acting and story of the film were great you hit right on the spot. The matches in the film were done very well. Great review for a great movie.

  4. This is one fantastic film and Rourke is outstanding. I too watched wrestling quite a bit at different times in my life. In the 1970’s will Andre’ the Giant, Dick the bulldog, Argentina Apollo – in the 80’s with Hulk Hogan, Rody Piper and Ultimate Warrior and again in the late 90’s with Big Show, The Undertaker, Triple-H, etc. This movie is a behind the scenes look as well as a great story.

    • It felt like I was watching a real wrestling story, right in front of my eyes. Still, I don’t miss wrestling all that much since it has fallen so far down the ladder.

  5. Nice, nice write-up. I liked The Wrestler but its not one I care to watch over and over. But I can certainly appreciate it. It’s pretty mesmerizing at times.

  6. Great review of a great movie Dan. I’m a big fan of Rourke and it was superb to see him through his hat back into the ring, so to speak. A marvellous performance and one that deserved the Oscar in my eyes.

    • He should have won, and it’s only because Sean Penn played a gay man is the real reason why he won. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. Thanks Mark!

  7. I wouldn’t call Rourke’s character predictable per se; before WARRIOR, I’d never really seen the life of a pro wrestler and Rourke wont a well-deserved Oscar: raw stuff

  8. I was into wrestling during the transition from regional wrestling federations to the eventual dominance of the WWE (then WWF). After watching this film I looked-up some of the old stars I loved, and boy was that depressing. I actually think the Randy character is most like Jake “The Snake” Roberts minus the snake.

    Great review, and I definitely agree with you on Rourke’s performance. Good observation about his improvisations.

  9. What a fantastic review here. I’m so glad to see you love this movie as much as I do. I love (love love) Sean Penn in Milk, but Rourke deserved the Oscar that year. That was HIS Oscar.

  10. Sadly, I haven’t seen this. Yet. But it’s always been on my list. I love Wrestling… but haven’t kept up with it over the years.

    I agree with you. Wrestling to me, is like a never ending movie with infinite cast, characters, and story lines. I don’t see why people have such a problem with that. People used to ask me: “You know it’s fake right?” I usually responded with “So are movies… You realize Sean Connery isn’t a real spy right? 😐 “

  11. I grew up loving wrestling in the 70’s and 80’s, even went to school with some guys who go into local wrestling leagues after college. This film effected me right away. It did what it was supposed to even if we wished it had turned out a little brighter.

  12. The strength of the film comes from the actors, there’s no question about that. The way it was constructed makes it so as it’s so honest and raw. Though Tomei and Wood are very good in their roles, Mickey Rourke was absolutely incredible as “The Ram”. After years of watching it for that one and only time (I should get to it again at some point), I consider his performance among the best 10, maybe even best 5 acting jobs I’ve ever seen. Rourke totally deserved that Oscar as you say. It was a clear mistake and he should have gotten it as much as Brando did for The Godfather, Hanks did for Forrest Gump or Forrest Whitaker for his role in The Last King of Scotland.

  13. I loved this fucking movie. It was my number 1 film of 2008. Rourke was awesome. I think he was robbed out of the Oscar that year.

  14. I’ve been a big wrestling fan since late 1999/early 2000 and, although we don’t really know what goes on in a wrestler’s private life, this film strikes me as one of the most honest i have ever watched. Such an emotional film with tremendous performances. Really enjoyed reading your review too!

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