2008 // USA // Darren Aronofsky // November 23, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Tivoli Theater)
Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler is so narratively straightforward and stylistically reserved (though not in any way humdrum) that I can't resist comparing it to the director's output of glittering, coal-black nightmares—Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and the underrated The Fountain—in search of a common thread. True to form, this tale of a 1980s professional wrestler gone miserably to seed bears the stamp of Aronofsky's unflagging absorption with self-inflicted personal destruction, agonies that promise redemption, release, and annihilation. Eschewing his usual taste for visual flash and wobbly grandiosity, the director here favors gritty realism sansRequiem's horror gloss. For better or for worse, there's no cleverness to Aronofsky's grim gaze in The Wrestler. The film delivers a naked portrait of human endurance, fragility, and entropy, in both their physical and emotional aspects. As the creased and battered Randy "The Ram" Robinson, Mickey Rourke captivates, conveying both the wrestler's pummeled dreams and the pained simplicity of his ambitions. Aronofsky shies from operatic gesturing, but he also exhibits an unfortunately limp, aimless reliance on sports film tropes. Ultimately, The Wrestler as a fascinating slice of elegant, trim realism, a refreshingly humane vehicle for the director's compelling, if morbid, artistic sensibilities.