TIFF Review: Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler

Some might say that The Wrestler is a departure from director Darren Aronofsky, while many others may look at it as an evolution. One thing is for sure, it's very different, and certainly more mature than the filmmaker's previous work. I'd love to compare it to Paul Thomas Anderson's transition from films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia to There Will Be Blood. The Wrestler, like TWBB, strips it down to the bones. The fantastical stylized cinematography has been replaced with gritty handheld and performances so realistic that you'll feel like you're watching a documentary. Understated and simple seem to be the buzz words being used to describe the film affectionately. The Wrestler is a heartbreaking, beautiful film.

A fan asks Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) to sign an autograph while reminiscing about seeing his first wrestling match at the Spectrum. "You were awesome," the fan tells Randy. WERE being the key word. The Ram is now playing to small crowds in high school auditoriums and armories. We're not talking about someone on the level of Hulk Hogan, who was able to make and save cash along the way. Imagine someone like Jake the Snake Roberts, who is now traveling to independent wrestling events on the weekends to pay the rent. Robinson finds himself living in a van after being locked out of his junk-filled trailer by his landlord.

At the conclusion of a hardcore wrestling match, Robinson suffers a heart attack backstage, collapsing in his own vomit. The doctor tells the wrestling legend that he can no longer wrestle, and has to start taking better care of himself. Lonely and depressed, Randy befriends a 30-something-year-old tattooed stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and begins working weekend shifts at the deli-counter at the the local supermarket. Randy also tried to reconnect with his estranged 22-year-old daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). But all Randy knows is the ring...

Rourke was born to play this role. Mickey's performance is worthy of all the Oscar buzz that has been floating around since the Venice premiere. Also, Tomei and Wood's performances should not be discounted. Robert Siegel's screenplay is so very detail orientated, and Aronofsky gets every single one of them right – from the opening credit sequence which shows the Ram's illustrious career through clippings from Pro Wrestling Illustrated Magazine, to the behavior of the wrestlers behind the scenes. This is the first fictional film I've seen to accurately portray professional wrestling.

The Wrestler does for wrestling what Rocky did to boxing. Those who have no knowledge of this world will be fascinated by the peek behind the curtain. From planning a blade job, to mapping out the match with the opponent, to the illegal drug purchasing, to a scene which shows medical assistants picking staples out of a wrestler's body following a hard core match. My favorite shot of the entire film follows Randy as he leaves the rush of the ring, to the unglamorous lonely backstage area. It is easy to see how this attention can become addicting, especially when the rest of the world doesn't care about you anymore.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10