The Wrestler is a film directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Mickey Rourke, Ernest Miller, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. Production began in January 2008. The film premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, winning the Golden Lion Award. Fox Searchlight acquired rights to distribute the film in the U.S.; it was released in a limited capacity on December 17, 2008, and will be released nationwide on January 16, 2009.
Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is a professional wrestler from the 1980s, twenty years past his prime, wrestling on the weekends in independent and semi-pro matches in the Elizabeth, New Jersey area, for extra money. After a show, a promoter proposes a 20th anniversary rematch with his most notable opponent, the Ayatollah, which sold out Madison Square Garden the first time around. Randy agrees, hoping this high-profile match could help him get back to the top.
Randy goes home and is locked out of his trailer for not paying the rent. He takes pain medication and falls asleep in the back of his Dodge van. The next day he goes to work, loading boxes at a supermarket. At night he visits a strip club where he has taken a liking to an older stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). He continues the training rituals for his wrestling appearance, including steroid usage. The next show is a particularly brutal "hardcore" match, in which Randy and his opponent (real life wrestler Dylan Summers, a.k.a. Necro Butcher) use various weapons on each other including thumbtacks, staple guns, barbed wire and glass. Randy suffers numerous gashes, including a deep cut on his chest from the barbed wire. Post-match, Randy is treated by a doctor backstage, but has a heart attack soon after and collapses.
The heart attack necessitates a bypass operation and Randy is told by the doctor that his weak heart cannot support steroids or even wrestling anymore. Randy cancels all his upcoming matches. Faced with his mortality, he tells Cassidy about his heart attack and tries to woo her. She warms to him at first (explaining that she has a son and plans of a move to Trenton) but quickly diverts back to her rule of not dating customers, leaving Randy alone in a bar. Randy visits his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), but she curses him out for being a bad father. On his second visit to Stephanie's place, Randy brings a thoughtful gift and blunt words about how he messed up as a dad. They agree to meet for dinner.
After watching a wrestling match, Randy gets drunk and has sex with a woman, sleeping the entire next day from exhaustion - and, thereby, missing his dinner date with Stephanie. He goes to her house in the middle of the night, where she angrily tells him he has never been and never will be a father to her. Randy goes to work, where he deliberately cuts himself in the deli meat slicer, screams at his boss, and quits his job. He calls up the promoter to say the Ayatollah match is back on. Before the match, Cassidy unexpectedly arrives (having quit her job to be with him) and apologizes, urging him not to wrestle for the sake of his health. Randy explains that the real world doesn't care about him, and the only place he belongs is in the ring - the fans being his true family.
Randy gives an emotional speech to the crowd. During the match, his heart strains, but he continues despite the Ayatollah's concern. Randy fights through the pain, and slowly climbs to the top rope to deliver his signature "Ram Jam" finisher. In the final shot he salutes the fans, leaps from the ropes, and the screen fades to black.
Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson
Ernest Miller as Bob/"The Ayatollah"
Marisa Tomei as Cassidy / Pam
Evan Rachel Wood as Stephanie Robinson
Todd Barry as Wayne
Also appearing in the film are actual professional wrestlers: Necro Butcher, Nick Berk, DJ Hyde, Johnny Mangus, Whacks, Kid USA, Ron Killings, Claudio Castagnoli, Romeo Roselli, John Zandig and Nigel McGuinness. In addition, several local New Jersey wrestlers from Bodyslam Wrestling Organization and NWA Liberty States appear in the crowd during Randy's match against Tommy Rotten.
The Wrestler was scripted by former The Onion writer Robert Siegel and entered development at director Darren Aronofsky's Protozoa Pictures. Actor Nicolas Cage entered negotiations in October 2007 to star in the film's lead role as Randy "Ram" Robinson, a former wrestler. The following month, Cage left the project after attending a Ring of Honor show in New York City, and Mickey Rourke replaced the actor in the lead role. According to Aronofsky, Cage pulled out of the movie because Aronofsky wanted Rourke as the lead character. Aronofsky stated that Cage was "a complete gentleman, and he understood that my heart was with Mickey and he stepped aside. I have so much respect for Nic Cage as an actor and I think it really could have worked with Nic but… you know, Nic was incredibly supportive of Mickey and he is old friends with Mickey and really wanted to help with this opportunity, so he pulled himself out of the race." Production began in January 2008, with filming taking place in Elizabeth, NJ, Linden, NJ, Rahway, NJ and New York.. Scenes were also shot at Alhambra Arena in Philadelphia. Afa Anoa'i, a former professional wrestler, was hired to train Rourke for his role. Anoai brought his two main trainers, Jon Trosky and Tom Farra to work with Rourke for eight weeks. Both trainers also have parts in the movie.
Clint Mansell, the composer for Aronofsky's previous films, π, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, reprised his role as composer for The Wrestler. A new Bruce Springsteen song, also titled "The Wrestler", plays over the film's closing credits.
Awards and nominations
The film won the Golden Lion Award at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. On December 11, 2008, it was nominated for three Golden Globes: Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama for Rourke, Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for Marisa Tomei, and Best Original Song for "The Wrestler".
The Wrestler has received overwhelmingly strong critical acclaim.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave the film positive write-ups based upon a sample of 111, with an average score of 8.2/10. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 81, based on 27 reviews. Mickey Rourke, in particular, has received considerable critical acclaim for his performance in the film. Alonso Duralde, of MSNBC, said, "Rourke's work transcends mere stunt-casting; his performance is a howl of pain that seems to come from a very real place." The movie currently holds a ranking of 8.7 on IMDB and is #66 on that websites Top 250. Todd McCarthy, of Variety, said, "Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances."
Ben Mankiewicz, from At The Movies, said, "To put it simply, this is the best film I've seen this year."