I am convinced. I am totally convinced. What am I convinced about? That hope exists for original filmmaking in today’s world of “adapted screenplay” this, or “remake of” that, or the ubiquitous “comic book” film. The Wrestler has convinced me.
This isn’t Rocky with wrestling. It isn’t some inspiring come-back story, though at times it could be. The Wrestler is a film about a guy who twenty years ago was at the top of the business, but is now forced to wrestler in small venues in even smaller towns in Jersey. He doesn’t do it because he has to. He maintains a part-time job on the weekdays. No, Randy “The Ram” wrestles because that’s who he is. He hardly has anything else. His life is lonely, filled with frequent trips to the local strip club, mostly to chat with who seems to be the only one outside his wrestling friends that gives a crap about him (Tomei). He’s even estranged from his daughter who could care less about him. This is a sad man who has nothing else in his life but wrestling, and he gives it his all.
It’s hard to critique a film that has so much heart and feels so true to life. I cannot say a bad thing about it. Rourke’s performance on-screen is amazing. I cringed at the painful stunts that I knew weren’t actually real, but I knew real pro wrestlers endured. Even the emotional torment he suffers resonates with the audience. Very rarely do I get drawn into a movie like I was drawn into The Wrestler. Films can be made to inspire, romanticize, document, narrate, or convey any number of emotions. The Wrestler allows the audience to empathize with “The Ram,” and the sentiment resonates throughout the film.
I won’t mention Aronfosky’s filmography or The Wrestler’s place amongst it. He didn’t write it, so it feels unfair to compare it to his past work. He directs it well. And that is all to be said about that.
Near the end I got the feeling like I was watching an AFI retrospective on film 20 years in the future. Instant classic is a strong title to give a film, but I think it is appropriate here. Easily the best film of 2008. The Wrestler in the future will be placed next to the greats of Hollywood: Casablanca, The Godfather, Rocky, E.T., etc. Snubbing The Wrestler for a Best Picture nomination may be the Academy’s greatest error. Hopefully they do what they can to remedy their error by giving the deserving Rourke his due.