DVDSleuth.com is your source for daily DVD news and reviews.
The Wrestler (2008)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/21/2009
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/28/2009
Having grown up in the South, I am proud of some aspects of Southern culture. For example, "Southern Hospitality" is a real thing and you'll find some of the nicest people that you'll ever meet in that part of the country. And while it isn't good for you, there's nothing like Southern cooking, such as North Carolina style BBQ, shrimp 'n grits, or fried shrimp. However, I've never been a fan of two of the most popular spectators sports in the South, stock-car racing and professional wrestling. Both seem like ridiculous wastes of time and I've always questioned why anyone would enjoy watching either. However, because of where I'm from, I am aware of wrestling, and that made the reality of The Wrestler come across are well researched.
Mickey Rourke stars in The Wrestler as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler who was at the top of his game in the 1980s, where he was known for his signature move, "The Ram Jam". Randy played all of the biggest venues, had his own action figure, and appeared in a wrestling video game. But, those days are long gone. Now in his 40s, Randy body is bruised and broken. Yet, he still appears at small, independent wrestling events to make ends meet. And, the fans still adore him. Living on a meager salary, Randy spends his time in his trailer, working part-time at a grocery store, or at a strip club ("Cheeques"), where he's befriended a dancer named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). When Randy suffers a serious medical problem, it makes him re-evaluate his life, and he attempts to re-connect with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). But, can a man who is addicted to the spotlight and a world of pain ever have anything resembling a "normal" life?
The Wrestler has received a lot of buzz for Mickey Rourke's performance and for once the hype is to be believed. Looking at his filmography, I realize that I haven't seen many of Rourke's film and most of what I know about him comes from the news stories which portray the actor as a self-destructive individual who left acting for boxing. The years haven't been good to either Rourke or his character here and his battered and scarred face makes him virtually unrecognizable. Thus, the hypnotic aspect of watching this film is that it's impossible to tell where Rourke ends and where Randy begins. However, none of that matters, as we forget that we are watching an actor at all. Director Darren Aronofsky has shot much of The Wrestler in a documentary fashion and it's easy to believe that we are watching a story about a real person. Rourke truly loses himself in the role and has no qualms about showing both Randy's tough and soft sides. This is a truly sad man who once had it all and now has nothing, and yet that doesn't stop him from continuing to do the only thing that he knows and loves. Marisa Tomei, who also received an Oscar nod for her work in the film, is very good as well, playing the quintessential stripper with a heart of gold. Like Rourke, she bares it all for this role and holds nothing back.
While the acting in The Wrestler is stellar, I did have some problems with the story. Again, I'm not a fan of professional wrestling, but having grown up in its backyard, I'm familiar with the ins and outs of the sport. Perhaps that's why I didn't find the central premise as original as some may have, despite the fact that we don't see many serious films about wrestlers. In fact, the novelty of a wrestler aside, the entire story could easily be "washed up (any profession) who keeps doing the only things he knows how". To its credit, the movie is very detailed in its portrayal of Randy's world and independent wrestling, but again, there wasn't much originality. And given how Aronofsky has always come across as a filmmaker who likes to challenge himself in the past, I was very surprised by how predictable and pedestrian the ending was. Perhaps Aronofsky felt that it was the only logical and honest conclusion, but the story could have gone in many different directions, and the ending as it stands now, feels like something from a TV movie.
Story issues aside, The Wrestler is still a mesmerizing experience based on the acting alone. Again, you'll feel as if you're watching a documentary, and originality issues aside, "The Ram" is a fascinating character study. The movie will make you cringe as you watch the torment which Randy inflicts on his body, and it will move you as you realize that this is simply a man who time has left behind.
The Wrestler comes off of the turnbuckle onBlu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. For the film, Aronofsky has chosen to give it a raw look, so the image is somewhat grainy and the colors aren't very vivid at times. With that in mind, the image is sharp and clear, and while the aforementioned grain is present, there are no defects from the source material. The image is never overly dark or bright, and in some scenes, such as the finale, the colors look very good. The level of detail here is excellent and we can see every crag and crevice in Rourke's face. The depth is nice as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The first thing that jumps out at us here is how good the in-film music sounds. (Has Quiet Riot's "Metal Health" ever been this clear?) The stereo effects are good and show a nice level of detail. During the wrestling matches, the mix shows us good surround sound effects, as we are engulfed in the crowd noises. These same scenes display some well-placed subwoofer effects with the hits and punches.
The Wrestler Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Within the Ring" (43 minutes) is a very detailed look at the making of the movie. Aronofsky and the producers discuss the ideas for the film and how the project came together. From there, we look at the settings, the wrestling, the use of improv, and the cast and characters. A lot of the discussion centers on the logistics of making the film on a low budget. There is a nice amount of on-set footage here. While there is a disucssion of Rourke's work, there are no comments from him. "Wrestler Round Table" (25 minutes) features real-life wrestlers Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Lex Luger, "Diamond" Dallas Page, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, and moderator Damon Andrews. They discuss the reality of the film and their impressions of Rourke's performance. Some talk about how they saw their real lives reflected in the movie. The last extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for "The Wrestler" by Bruce Springsteen.
Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long