There’s a scene about halfway through that made The Wrestler for me. It’s practically a throwaway scene in terms of the grand scheme of the film, but it’s one of those that just adds another layer to the character. You’ll see lots of these scenes in independent, character-driven flicks, and to be honest, it’s not even so much the action that takes place in it as much as it’s the content of said action.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is feeling down, left with a job he can’t physically perform, a daughter he didn’t want that now doesn’t want him, a love interest that’s uninterested, and to top it all off, he gets locked out of his trailer from time to time. Sad and bored and sitting at home one day, he turns to a neighborhood kid and asks him if he wants to play some video games. The kid is one that might’ve been a fan once upon a time, but is too young and probably sees him as that creepy big guy two trailers down. Nevertheless, he plays. The kid talks video games to him, psyched about the latest Call of Duty game, which Randy, due to being out of touch and hard of hearing, misinterprets beautifully as “Call it doody for.” Great as all this is, it’s not what did it for me, though.
It’s the fact that they’re playing a fictional, ’80s era wrestling game on the old Nintendo (NES) that prominently features Robinson in his glory days. Randy rules at his game, which of course he should – it would be a shock for anyone with that much pride and/or vanity to have not played it for hours upon hours. The game (titled Wrestle Jam: The Ram vs. The Ayatollah) is onscreen for literally less than 30 seconds, but the fact that the filmmakers (I’m not sure who to credit specifically) didn’t just throw in some easily photoshopped game jacket but commissioned someone to craft this fictional game is one of those easily skipped-over details that transform a good movie to a great one (the same could probably be said of Randy’s action figure, but for whatever reason, that didn’t have the same effect on me).
Of course, there are several other things to enjoy about The Wrestler, many of which have been documented ad nauseam, but some that haven’t:
* Naturally, the career-rejuvenating performance by Rourke. Don’t call it a comeback…
* Marisa Tomei’s complete lack of inhibition.
* The ’80s lovin’ soundtrack, featuring songs from, amongst others: Ratt, Quiet Riot, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Scorpions, and the so-obvious-yet-still-perfect usage of Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone).”
* The beautiful, heart-wrenching (no pun intended) ending. The film simply had to end the way it did. Had any of the alternate paths been chosen, the effect of the film’s power would have been stunted tremendously.
* The scene upon where Randy’s foray into working the deli counter at his day job (at a supermarket) is juxtaposed with his traditional ring entry. Brilliant.
* The kickass combination of cinematography and editing that made the handful of wrestling scenes the best action scenes I saw on film this past year. What so many who’ve become fond of hand-held cameras (in action movies) have forgotten is that, despite that “oh so realistic” feel, the audience still needs to know what the hell is going on. Randomly shaking a camera in front of two guys fighting does not an appealing action scene make – and yes, I’m looking at you, Paul Greengrass (and all of your acolytes). The Wrestler manages to take the same kind of wrestling scenes you’ve seen on TV for decades and make them into a visceral experience that you needn’t be a fan of wrestling to enjoy.