Professional wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was one of the biggest superstars in the profession in the 80's. However, 20 years of in-ring torture has taken its toll on his body, leading him to a broken-down life kept afloat by drugs and alcohol paid for by one-shot matches at VFW halls. Opportunity knocks when a promoter books a re-match of The Ram's famous Madison Square Garden bout against "The Ayatollah" (Earnest Miller). Just when "The Ram's" prospects are looking up, he suffers a career-ending heart attack, forcing him to re-evaluate his life, including an attempted relationship with a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), and his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
Although marked with incredibly strong characters and actors, probably the more striking and powerful aspect of The Wrestler is the subject matter everything is wrapped around. There have been a number of wrestling-focused movies, but The Wrestler is one of the only ones I can think of that treats it with respect. This is probably one of the truest representations of the sport I've ever seen. Rather than focus on the in-ring antics, it takes great care with showing just how "fake" things really are. Again quoting Page, "When a 300 pound guy is coming down on you, you can't fake gravity."
These points are hammered home in the aforementioned "Wrestlers Roundtable" and "Within the Ring" featurettes. Both look at the world of professional wrestling that isn't apparent in the polished Vince McMahon version we all know and ridicule. The roundtable includes legends such as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Lex Luger. These are guys I grew up watching when I was young, and it is heartbreaking to see and hear how true-to-life Randy's story is. Lex Luger's comments are especially powerful considering his high-profile fall from grace.
Both features are great, though they also highlight one of the Blu-ray version's major flaws. Beyond the two featuerettes, The Wrestler is incredibly light on extras. The only other noteworthy extra is a music video by Bruce Springsteen. Additionally, the video quality is intentionally gritty, which may not make for the best of Blu-ray presentations.
Besides offering a gritty, behind-the-scenes look at professional wrestling, The Wrestler is a great character piece. There isn't much difference between Randy and Cassidy, yet both carry so much emotional baggage that their relationship is strained. Randy's relationship with Stephanie is just as strained and delivers what is probably one of the film's best scenes.
I'm not a big fan of Rourke, but he deserves every bit of credit for his performance. Granted, Randy's life isn't much different from Rourke's real-life career, but he manages to present a character that is confident in the ring, but a beaten man outside. Even when life is looking up for Randy, he is slammed with adversity that he can't seem to handle.
Slumdog Millionaire may have walked off with the gold, but The Wrestler could have easily found itself in the same spot. This is one of the last year's best pictures and should find a spot in your collection.